MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's hopes of claiming a maiden basketball World Cup have been dealt a blow, with Ben Simmons opting out of the tournament to focus on his NBA preparations.
Simmons, who confirmed a lucrative contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, said he had made the "difficult" decision to skip the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 tournament in China after consulting his representation.
"I'm really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world's biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo," the 22-year-old said in a statement.
"Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new team mates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season."
Melbourne native Simmons's statement came hours after Philadelphia confirmed he had signed through to the 2024/25 season, a deal media reported at $170 million, the highest ever for an Australian athlete.
Selected with the number one overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the guard-forward improved in points (16.9), rebounds (8.8) and assists (7.7) to earn All-Star selection in his second season.
Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson is the only other player in NBA history to total as many points, rebounds and assists as Simmons through his first two seasons.
Even without Simmons, Australia's 'Boomers' team are likely to be a force in China, with current and former NBA players including Andrew Bogut, Joe Ingles, Patty Mills, Aron Baynes and Matthew Dellavedova set to be included in their squad.
Simmons said he would play Australia's home World Cup warmups against the United States and Canada in Perth and Melbourne next month.
Australia have been drawn in Group H in China along with Canada, Senegal and Lithuania.
The Boomers play their opener against Canada on Sept. 1 in Dongguan.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)