Everybody is familiar with the story lines of the Star Wars franchise. A dark force has overtaken the Republic, and an Empire has taken over control. A rebel band of Jedi knights using the power of the Force fights to overthrow the Empire and finds a new hope in the person of Luke Skywalker. The young Skywalker learns the ways of the Force and with a band of rebels including the pilot Han Solo, a wookie, and the princess take overcomes the dark side.
This story line represents actual events such as the rise and fall of Rome, good and evil and the role of the Church, and this year's LSU Basketball season. The basketball team at LSU enjoyed success over the years with characters such as The Pistol, Shaq, and the former Chris Jackson. The Tigers used "the Force" to reach three Final Fours most recently 10 years ago with a John Brady coached team of Glen Davis, Tasmin Mitchell, and Garrett Temple. Since then the team has been overtaken by the dark side of mediocrity and has been looking for a new hope to restore itself to its former glory.
The Tigers thought they found their new hope from a land down under in the person of Ben Simmons. The young Simmons grew up in his father's footsteps and played high school ball at the basketball mecca Monteverde Academy. Persuaded by his godfather on the coaching staff, he signed with LSU and looked forward to a legendary season with a band of players including fellow newcomers Antonio Blakeny and Craig Victor along with a returning cast of Tim Quarterman, Josh Gray, and the old sage Keith Hornsby. There was, however, a caveat that he would stay one season in school before entering the NBA Draft.
Simmons quickly showed LSU what he could do in the Legends Classic game against Kennesaw State when he led the team with 22 points and 9 rebounds. Then came a night in December with LSU trailing North Florida 56-48 at the half. The team came back in the second half scoring 71-points to win 119-108. Simmons finished the game with 43 points, 14 rebounds, five steals, seven assists, and three blocks. It was the first time LSU had a 43-plus point scorer since Shaquille O'Neal in 1991.
Going back to the Star Wars story line, the Force was strong with a young Anakin Skywalker. As he grew up he encountered certain fears in life. "Fear is the path to the dark side," said Jedi master Yoda. "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."
These same emotions plagued Simmons this season. The injury bug hit the Tigers causing them to lose Hornsby's range. Simmons people could argue turned to the dark side of the Force and seemed to have quit on his team when it needed him the most. He was benched for the first five minutes against Tennessee for not going to class. The team fizzled down the stretch and declined any invitation in post-season play. The new hope fizzled with it. A day after announcing the decision, Simmons announced he had hired an agent. Then days later he announced he had left school to move to Arizona before entering the NBA Draft.
The Ben Simmons era is now officially over. He left us with flashes of greatness but left us also short of where we could have been. LSU fans will look to put this chapter behind them and will look forward to the day when a new hope truly comes to hoist up another banner in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. There is hope, and it springs eternal for those wearing the purple and gold.