The brevity of LaMelo Ball’s answers during a Zoom interview Tuesday indicated nervousness bubbling beneath the surface.
But for the youngest of the Ball brothers, you should know better.
If Ball, 19, becomes the No. 1 overall selection of the 2020 NBA Draft on Wednesday, the pick serves as confirmation his winding road to the league proved worth the journey and all the outside handwringing accompanying it. He’s already played professionally in the Australian NBL as well as Lithuania. He competed at the SPIRE Institute in Ohio, as well. All of that took place after Ball left Chino Hills (Calif.) High School as a junior; after he had committed to play collegiately at UCLA.
“I don’t look at anything like that as pressure,” Ball said. “Being the No. 1 pick definitely holds a lot, but I feel like I was born for it.”
Ball certainly received the requisite training and experience having grown up looking up to older brothers, Lonzo, the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft (currently playing for the New Orleans Pelicans), and LiAngelo, who is now plying his trade in the NBA G-League. LaMelo started high school early at Chino Hills to play alongside his brothers, and even dropped 92 points in a 2017 game, which ranked as the second-highest total in California high school history.
LaMelo Ball’s father, LaVar, believed in his three sons so much that he predicted back in May that all three would one day play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
In fact, LaVar Ball pulled LaMelo — who had already landed his own signature shoe through the family’s Big Baller Brand — out of Chino Hills while LiAngelo left UCLA, so the brothers could sign one-year deals with Prienai-Birstonas Vytautas of the Lithuanian Basketball League.
Let’s keep in mind LaMelo was 16 at the time, but the journey to play professionally overseas paid dividends.
“I feel like when you go overseas, it’s a whole new different style of play; something that you can just add to the arsenal,” Ball said. “So, I feel like it helped me in that aspect.”
Ball moved on in the summer of 2018 to the Junior Basketball Association, a league established by LaVar Ball for high school graduates that didn’t want to attend college. Months later, LaMelo Ball left the JBA to finish high school at SPIRE. At 18, Ball joined the Australia NBL for the 2019-20 season and ranked second in the league in scoring (17 points per game), second in assists (7 apg), and steals (1.7 spg) in addition to finishing eighth in rebounding (7.5 rpg).
A foot injury limited Ball to just 12 regular-season games, but in that short span, he became the first NBL player since 2005 to tally triple-doubles in consecutive games.
Not bad for a youngster with no college experience playing in a league against adults, but Ball knew exactly where the path led, regardless of how it looked to outsiders.
“You could say it was a gamble, but for me, I already figured out what was gonna happen, me going there, what I was getting myself into,” Ball said. “So, it wasn’t really a gamble. Just looking [from the outside], you’d probably think it’s a gamble.”
Maybe, but it’s clear the move paid off. Now he’s preparing for what’s next.
“I feel like I was born for this whole thing going on,” Ball said. “You only go through this process once. So, I’m really just enjoying all of it.”
Ball moved to Detroit in March to continue training for the NBA Draft, and he said during Tuesday’s Zoom call that he’s conducted workouts with Minnesota, Golden State, Charlotte and Detroit. The Timberwolves, Warriors and Hornets own the top three picks, respectively, while the Pistons sit at seventh.
LaVar Ball prefers that his son plays for the New York Knicks or Detroit.
“He probably just likes the big market,” LaMelo Ball said. “He raised me, taught me the game pretty much; everything I knew when I was little. So, I appreciate all that. It’s my pops, so he’s always gonna be involved. But pretty much it’s been me and [trainer] J.J. (Jermaine Jackson) getting to it.”
LaMelo Ball mentioned that his Zoom interview on Tuesday felt like a typical day. For Ball, that entails “waking up, going to work out and shoot. After that, get some breakfast in me, come back, stretch and stuff, go to the gym right after that. [I’ll] get back to it at around 6 o’clock, back in the gym. I’ve also got band workouts and stuff, stretching and all that preparing the body. Then, late at night, [I’ll] probably get something to eat watch and movie and then restart the day.”
Obviously, that changes somewhat Wednesday with Ball poised to be selected among the top of the draft, if not No. 1 overall.
Ball pointed out that he doesn’t compare himself to any other player in the NBA, and despite his impressive showing in the NBL with the Illawarra Hawks, observers witnessed plenty of deficiencies in the youngster’s game. Ball struggled to knock down shots from deep, hitting just 20 of 82 from 3-point range (24.4%). He also connected on just 37.3% from the floor with an unorthodox shooting stroke that scouts believe diminished his accuracy.
Ball will also need to develop into a better defender in the NBA.
His 6-7 frame, natural talents and hoops pedigree suggest the youngster is up to the task.
With more than 5 million followers on Instagram, Ball has already starred in the Facebook reality show “Ball in the Family”, and he once played in an AAU game against last year’s top pick Zion Williamson that received more than 800,000 views on Facebook Live.
So, Ball is plenty ready for the spotlight, displaying the humility at 19 that he’ll need succeed in it for the long haul.
Asked about the role he envisions for himself as a rookie, Ball didn’t hesitate.
“Pretty much whenever I get there, and [whatever] the coach asks me to do, I’m gonna do,” he said.
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