One of the most talked-about prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft is Lonzo Ball, even if much of the talking hasn’t really even been about him (or even by him). But if you're able to separate the player from the accompanying sound and fury, by all rights Ball belongs in the center of any conversation about the world's best basketball prospects.
After one banner season at UCLA, where he averaged a robust 14.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6 rebounds per game, Ball declared for the NBA Draft, where most projections have him in the top three players available. While his family has been clear that they’d like to see him go to his hometown Lakers, nothing seems guaranteed, at least as far as we know, as the Lakers have been active all week. No matter who drafts Ball, they’ll be getting a player with an elite ability to share the ball. And in this era of pace and space hoops, Ball’s dedication to playing with pace and willingness to find the open man would seem to make him a perfect fit in the uptempo, modern NBA.
We sat down with Lonzo Ball on Tuesday at an event for Panini trading cards, which will be making “instant” cards during the Draft on Thursday night. But before they could print up cards with Ball’s likeness and new uniform -- whatever color that may be -- we had a few questions. And Ball had plenty of answers.
Me: So were you into trading cards when you were growing up?
Lonzo Ball: Yeah, I had some trading cards when I was younger, and it’s kind of cool now to have my own.
Me: You have two younger brothers. Were they into cards, too?
LB: Yeah. We kind of collected them and would compare and see who had the best ones.
Me: Who had the most?
LB: Definitely my little brother, Melo. He was really into them.
Me: Are you going to sell him some of your cards? Maybe charge him extra for some autographed cards?
LB: (laughs) I mean, I’ll give them to him for free. That’s my man.
Me: What was the moment when you first knew you had a real shot at playing in the NBA?
LB: I would say in seventh grade. That’s when my Dad, he kind of sat me down and was like, “You need to start thinking about what you want to do.” And I was like, “I want to play in the NBA.” And he was like, “Alright.” And that’s when we started taking it seriously.
Me: Were you already the best player in your class at school?
LB: Yeah, in my school and around town. I already knew God had gifted me with certain talents that other people don’t have, and I’ve just tried to use them to the best of my ability.
Me: So if I was an NBA team, what would you tell me to get me to draft you?
LB: That I’m a pure point guard who will come in, put winning first, put the team first, and do whatever I can to help the program. And we can just go from there.
Me: I know passing is one of your strengths. Do you consider yourself a pass-first guard?
LB: I think I can score. But personally, I like to pass first, because people love people who pass. And I’m a point guard, so my job is to kind of get people open.
Me: You grew up in the Los Angeles area. Were the Lakers your favorite team when you were growing up?
LB: Well, I was more of a player guy. Like, I watched my favorite players. So, definitely LeBron, Kobe, T-Mac, Iverson for sure, guys like that. But my favorite player is LeBron.
Me: Other than LeBron, that's not really a bunch of guys known as pass-first players.
LB: Nah, I just liked watching them play (laughs).
I think I can score. But personally, I like to pass first, because people love people who pass. And I’m a point guard, so my job is to kind of get people open.
Me: At 6-6, you have size that a lot of point guards don’t have. How does work to your advantage?
LB: I think it helps a lot. It helps me get rebounds, I can see over the defense pretty easily, and yeah, I thank God he blessed me with height.
Me: That’s something you can’t teach. I’ve heard you talk about your leadership, and that’s another thing that you can’t really work on in the weight room. How did you learn to be a leader?
LB: I think it just started from a young age, and it helps that I’m the oldest brother. So I’ve had to lead them. Actually, I’ve always been kind of a leader, and it’s kind of just stuck with me throughout my whole career.
Me: How do you deal with failure?
LB: Well, everybody’s human, and you’re not going to do the right thing perfectly every time. But you mess up and you learn from it and you go on from there.
Me: Watching the video on NBA.com with you and Isiah Thomas in your backyard, I was thinking you must not have much of a three-point shot. Because there’s not a lot of room back there to take long shots.
LB: (laughs) Yeah, well there’s another hoop on the other side.
Me: Oh, OK, I thought I saw, there’s like one in the back?
LB: Yeah, that’s where you shoot the threes from.
Me: OK. Can you, your brothers and your Dad all fit out there at the same time to play two-on-two?
LB: Yeah, we can. It definitely gets physical. A lot of backyard one-on-ones back there.
Me: What’s it been like these last couple of weeks for you, going through the Draft process?
LB: It’s been a lot of fun. Obviously there’s been a lot of attention and stuff, but going to UCLA and kind of being in L.A., I got used to it. So nothing new for me.
Me: I would think attention isn’t something you need to get used to. You’ve had a lot of eyes on you for a while.
LB: Yeah, yeah.
Me: Was there anything unexpected in your workouts?
LB: No. When I worked out for the Lakers, and it was a lot of shooting, lot of pivots. Kind of the only things you can do when it’s one-on-one.
Me: What does that mean, pivots?
LB: Like, you catch it, and you pivot. You turn around. (laughs)
Me: That’s it?
LB: Yeah. A lot of footwork stuff. You only can do so much when it’s just you.
Me: Do you feel like you showed well in those workouts?
LB: I think the workouts went fine.
Me: Last thing, we’re just hours away from the Draft and you finally get to find out where you’re going. Any nerves?
LB: Nah, I don’t get nervous.
Me: Come on.
LB: I swear, I don’t. Everybody asks me that.
Me: I mean, you have to get a little nervous?
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