Lonzo Ball led his UCLA team to a win at Kentucky as a freshman.
LiAngelo Ball scored 72 points in a high school game.
LaMelo Ball is a walking highlight reel with jaw-dropping assists and long-range 3-pointers, including a halfcourt swish that recently made SportsCenter and drew the attention of Steph Curry.
And here’s the crazy part, that was all just in December for the unusually talented basketball playing Ball brothers. LiAngelo and LaMelo are busy putting on a show right now in the desert as their Chino Hills (Calif.) squad looks to defend its championship in the elite-level Rancho Mirage Holiday Invitational. Chino Hills plays Pleasant Grove (Utah) on Thursday night as the Huskies attempt their 50th consecutive victory.
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The Chino Hills style is appointment-viewing. They run and gun and hit triple digits almost every night. It’s a style that leads to gaudy numbers, multiple dunks and 40 to 50 3-pointers attempted per game. So in that sense it’s easier to amass the eye-popping individual numbers like the 65 points scored by LiAngelo on Monday in the first game of the tournament, a 131-100 win.
But don’t let the numbers distract you. The Balls can play any style you want. Earlier this year in fact, in a showcase tournament in Las Vegas that didn’t have a shot clock for some reason, the Balls were winning by dribbling out the clock (taking a minute off the clock) while nursing a small lead.
What’s surprising about the Balls is how different their games are.
Lonzo has complete command of the game: offense, defense, passing, shooting, game management and sneaky hops. He was named the American Family Insurance ALL-USA Player of the Year last season.
LiAngelo, a senior who is committed to UCLA, is a completely different player. More linebacker than lanky. Ball has what you might call “old-man” game: outmuscling people for buckets, using grit and guile more than speed and hops. At the same time, though, he has the best looking shooting stroke of the three: straight out of the textbook wrist snap. The other two have funky deliveries but get the job done as well.
Then there’s LaMelo. Now a sophomore, he has taken over the point guard role vacated by his brother, and he also grew about five inches since last year. He is in total control of the team, and his game has more pieces of flair than anyone around. You may have seen the viral video of him Monday night pointing to the halfcourt line at Rancho Mirage High School, telling his opponent he was going to shoot it from there, and then doing it, and then making it.
In Tuesday’s game, on a two-on-none breakaway with LaMelo leading the pack, he had three choices: Make the layup, dish it back to his teammate for a dunk, or jump in the air, put the ball between his legs then lay it off the backboard for an alley-oop dunk for his teammate. You can guess which one he chose.
Is there a cockiness there? Yeah, I guess a little, but it’s not in an “I want to humiliate my opponent” way. It’s in an “I want to have as much fun as possible out here” way.
And that’s greatest takeaway from watching the Balls play ball – they are always having fun. Wins come first, of course, but throwing a little entertainment in there never hurt either.
And it’s pretty easy to see where that comes from – their father LaVar.
If you want to have some fun, sit next to him during a Chino Hills game. Actually just anywhere in a 30-foot radius should do the trick. He is into the game. With every shot hoisted by one of his sons – and there are a lot – he fires off a confident “Bang! Bang!” Whether the shot swishes, clangs or airballs. He’s got another “Bang! Bang!” in the holster for the next shot.
We’ve all read stories about or seen those overbearing sports parents that make their children’s life miserable as they ride them to greatness. I don’t get the impression LaVar is like that at all. To me, he’s just a proud, bubbly papa, rooting on his boys.
Earlier this year during one of UCLA’s November wins, papa Ball, was asked by the ESPN crew what he thought about Lonzo and the Bruins. His response was “I’m gonna tell you right now, UCLA is going to win the NC-double-A Championship. You think I’m playin’? I’m calling it right here and right now. Come see me when they win it.”
The confidence was off-putting to some, but to have watched him and listened to him here in the desert these last two years, it’s not off-putting to me. I’m loving it. I found it to be more endearing than boastful. It’s the equivalent of the mid-air “Bang! Bang!” Just another example of the pride he has in his kids. Hey, he thinks his son’s team is going to win it all. Is that such a bad thing?
To dislike the Ball family is to dislike fun. You like fun don’t you?
So get on board the Ball train with me now. My guess is that for the next 12-15 years we’ll all enjoy a fun basketball ride.