This week on Bulls.com, Sam Smith will be writing a series of stories featuring 2020 NBA Draft prospects speaking to the media via the NBA's virtual combine. Up next, we have point guard LaMelo Ball, who last played in Australia's National Basketball League.
As first impressions go, it wasn't a great one for LaMelo Ball in his Zoom media interview Monday with the opening of the NBA Draft Combine. Even as Ball distanced himself from his meddlesome father.
"My old man, he's his own man," Ball said when asked the expected question about his often disruptive dad. "He has his opinions, I have mine. Like I said, I feel like I can play on any team. Anywhere's a great fit."
You figure they worked on that answer. But so many of the rest were curious, from answering "I don't know" when he was asked if he had heard from the Minnesota Timberwolves with the No. 1 pick to basically declaring he'll be great with any team.
To be fair, which I view as a personal weak point, Ball was willing to answer media questions, which he did patiently for almost 25 minutes Monday. Many of the top prospects have refused to do so. Just being willing to engage with reporters when so many have demurred should be viewed as a positive.
But it's so difficult to figure this teenager who basically never had a childhood.
He committed to play at UCLA by the time he was 13 and by 16 was on the way to playing professionally in Lithuania after, with his brothers, helped his high school team to 60 straight wins, once making a half court shot two seconds into a game, another time scoring 92 points as his father preened and paraded about coaching, the national media and started his own pro league with his sons. LaMelo finally seemed to mellow last season playing in Australia with consistent play on the way to being regarded by some as the top prospect in the 2020 NBA draft.
LaMelo is considered a remarkable passer, the most spectacular in the draft class with the potential to be a star attraction. His father is lobbying for him to go to New York with condemnations of some other teams with higher draft picks. He's a streaky shooter like Lonzo, who plays for the New Orleans Pelicans and has settled into being a responsible and supportive teammate if not the star worthy of the No. 2 overall draft pick.
The Timberwolves after trading for D'Angelo Russell last season appear to have little interest in Ball as the No. 1 pick. His father already is lobbying against Golden State at No. 2 where a team interested might trade into. Charlotte at No. 3 might not be big enough for the show. Would the Bulls be interested at No. 4?
LaMelo, who turned 19 in August, seems to have the potential for that high ceiling of a star. Though he also plays ball dominant with a need to control the action. He's 6-6 and a better shooter and scorer than his brother, Lonzo. He sees the floor well, is intelligent and plays with high wire flair and excitement. A taller Jason Kidd with maybe not quite the defensive interest?
Put your team in his hands? Ball said he hasn't heard from the Bulls yet.
"I always played up at a young age and I feel playing up (against older players) will always help you no matter what because you find me with the big people," LaMelo said. "Against big men you are going to learn different stuff than just playing with your age. So I feel that has helped me just doing that. I always feel 100 percent ready; I'm good."
He certainly doesn't lack confidence, which is a vital trait for a professional athlete and not as routine as one would expect. He spoke with reporters from a gym where he's been working out. His hair was a mop of curls framing a slight mustache and wispy chin whiskers. He could also be playful as when the moderator asked for a question from Chris Miller. Apparently he was on mute. "No Chris Miller," LaMelo laughed.
He wasn't unlikeable, but seemed a bit world weary with the process. This kid probably has been doing interviews and signing autographs since he was 10 and has been the focus of national TV reports. He'd answered all this stuff. His responses were generally short if not rude. He's LaMelo and you're not.
"Any team I'll give my best; I'm cool with anything, for real," LaMelo repeated several times as reporters took turns asking about playing for their city's teams. "I feel any team who picks me I'm good. A lot of stuff I've been through makes me who I am today. I feel everything I did led me to who I am today. So I am grateful for it.
"I feel I can be successful in any situation," LaMelo repeated. "But I would like to have the ball because I feel the point guard needs the ball to make plays and stuff like that. Anything that happens. I'm positive. It's the NBA. You put me with great players, I feel like I'm going to be better."
The questions often get to personal tastes and LaMelo did mention a half dozen bands or singers he listens to. But when Lesley Gore wasn't among them I kind of tuned out.
"I don't really compare myself to nobody," he said. "I feel I'm like myself."
He wouldn't say much about Lonzo other than they talk daily and "he gives me a lot of little hinters (about NBA life), so it's hard to break it down to just one. I feel positive everywhere I go. I feel I can make a good impact anywhere I go."
He's ready, by the way.
LaMelo also alluded to the media coverage, which he suggested was predictably inaccurate. There likely has been some exaggeration.
"I feel like (teams are) just trying to get to know me because there's a whole lot of stuff out here where you won't really know if it's me or not," he said. "I'm saying with all the stuff in the media with how I am and they pretty much want to know me. Anything I go into I'm always positive, always looking at the best outcome. Like I said, any team I go to it's the perfect fit or a good fit.
"Everyone has their own opinion and thought process," LaMelo said. "So I feel however they want to view me they should be able to. When I was real young, I thought I was going to go the traditional route. But when I made that first move to Lithuania, I realized what was going on. It's my journey; I like it."
As a top pick, would you like him?