Shad Powers is a sports columnist at The Desert Sun. Follow him on Twitter at @shad_powers.
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — I think I might have just watched the best high school basketball player I’ve ever seen.
But I’m not sure, because he doesn’t run incredibly fast, isn’t particularly strong, can jump but not super-high, has an awkward looking shot and barely said a word the entire game.
His name is Lonzo Ball. He’s a senior at Chino Hills High School and he’s going to play at UCLA next year.
It’s a unique situation as he and his brothers — junior LiAngelo and freshman LaMelo — are often lumped together under the storyline “Come watch the Ball Brothers run and gun for Chino Hills.” While that is a valid selling point, it was clear to me last night, that Lonzo — or Zo if you are in the know enough to call the Balls Zo, Gelo and Melo — stands alone as a singular talent.
Granted I have a one-game sample-size, but in the championship of the MaxPreps Holiday Classic against a talented Redondo Union team this week, Lonzo had an effortless near quadruple-double. His final numbers officially were 31 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds and four blocks. That’s what the guy sitting to my right at the scorer’s table had. The guy sitting to my left at the scorer’s table had him for 31, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and seven blocks. Such are the vagaries of scoring a basketball game.
Anyway, the word I’d associate with Lonzo is “control.” He’s in control of everything: The ball, the clock, the game, his emotions, and the outcome of the game. That outcome in this case was a 96-80 win and a prestigious tournament title, showing why Chino Hills is the No. 1 team in the nation in some polls.
But back to Lonzo. It’s hard to describe him by comparing him to other players. He’s unique. He looks like a combination of Tayshaun Prince and Drake. He is a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard with a long wingspan. A great passer. A knockdown long-range shooter, emphasis on long. Can dribble drive. Plays tenacious on-the-ball defense, and instinctive off-the-ball defense, which is where most of his blocked shots originate. He’s like Magic Johnson but plays defense. Like Steph Curry but with an urge to pass it. Like LeBron but without letting his emotions get carried away. Like Scottie Pippen but with better ball skills. Those are lofty comparisons, obviously, but I’m just using these all-time greats (and Scottie Pippen. Oh, snap!) as comparisons to explain Lonzo’s diverse skill set. He does everything well. No exploitable weakness.
I watched the Harrison Twins in this tournament a couple years ago, and in my day back in Michigan, Chris Webber was a living legend as a high school player. But I’d take Lonzo over all of them. I’ve never seen a high schooler play with such a high basketball IQ. And what’s more is that he does it with almost no emotion. No shouting at teammates. No raising three fingers and putting them in the holster after a long three. No stare down of an opponent after a dunk. He never even barks out play calls. A subtle point here or there. Brief eye-contact with Melo or Gelo lets them know where he wants them.
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He’s like a basketball-playing Barry Sanders. As he hammered home an alley-oop dunk to put the cherry on top of Wednesday’s win, the crowd at Rancho Mirage High School rose and roared. He did nothing. He loped back down the floor to play defense, gave a low five to Melo for the assist, and continued to play with all the emotion of a guy sitting in his La-Z-Boy surfing TV channels.
I can’t wait to see how his college career goes at UCLA, and I bet it will last more than one year, because like I said, he doesn’t have the measurables or jaw-dropping athletic ability that one associates with one-and-dones.
He’s just simply the best basketball player on the court. And he’s the best high school player I’ve ever seen.