SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Back in October after LaVar Ball infamously yanked his son LaMelo out of Chino Hills (Calif.) after failing to get its new basketball coach on his page, LaVar told ESPN that he wanted to see how the Huskies do “without my tutelage.”
“We’re OK,” said Huskies forward Onyeka Okongwu.
Despite falling to reigning Arizona state champion No. 22 Shadow Mountain (Phoenix) 85-81 Friday at the American Family Insurance Hoophall West, the Huskies certainly looked formidable.
“People think that because we don’t have any Ball brothers that we’re not good,” said Huskies point guard Phaquan Davis. “But we’re a really good team. Things are just different now.”
Makes sense since it’s the first season in five years without one of LaVar’s three sons on the floor. LaMelo pumped in 27 points and nine assists a game last season.
On Thursday, LaVar told ESPN that LiAngelo, who LaVar withdrew from UCLA earlier this week, and LaMelo signed with Lonzo’s agent subsequently forfeiting their high school and collegiate eligibility.
“Melo is a star and a phenom and of course we miss him,” said Okongwu, who scored 33 points in Friday’s loss. “But we’re gonna be fine without him, we just have to figure it out.”
The Huskies are currently 3-3, which means they’d have to win out to match last year’s record of 30-3.
Still, Okongwu and his teammates said they’re focusing on the positives.
“This year the ball gets moved around more and everyone gets touches now,” Okongwu said. “I’m getting the ball more than I have in the past. There are pluses and minuses to it. I’m just not used to losing this much, this early.”
Davis played off the ball last season, but with LaMelo out he moved over to the point this season.
The biggest lesson he learned from watching LaMelo run the point?
The importance of mental toughness.
“He never got rattled out there,” Davis said. “Even with all the attention and stuff on him he kept his head. He’s my brother so I learned a lot from him, but I was always prepared for a moment like this. I think we’re gonna be fine. We don’t have the Balls, but we’re still strong.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY