“With the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, the Los Angeles Lakers select Lonzo Ball from UCLA.” Those were the words heard on June 22nd from Adam Silver. “He will be our franchise player and I expect in 20 years his jersey to be up at the rafters at the Staples Center.” Magic Johnson really believes and sees something special in this kid and so we take you back to his story since the early days, his unique dad, his Chino Hills days, his UCLA days and finally the draft.
Over the past year, the Ball family has become the No. 1 trending news in sports in America. The things LaVar Ball says, the crazy predictions, the various comments, the belief he has in his sons, the UCLA and the NCAA, the Lakers and Chino Hills have become the biggest storylines of the year. But this has actually been LaVar Ball’s plan since the childhood years of Lonzo.
Since his college days, LaVar Ball wanted to become a basketball player. In college, the 6’6’’ LaVar played at Washington State University before transferring to Cal State Los Angeles where he met his wife; Tina Ball. Moreover, he played American football professionally for the London Monarchs in the World of American Football. Since he wasn’t able to play basketball professionally, he wanted his sons to become stars in the NBA, and shock the world. Since, Lonzo Ball was born on October 27, 1997, as LaVar has many times stated, he had a plan of making him a basketball player, making him fall in love with basketball, getting him to the NBA, later to the Lakers and finally make him the best player to ever play the game of basketball (!). Since Lonzo was two years old he had a ball in his hands.
"I started introducing my boys [to working out] when they were 4 or 5 years old, doing Pull-Ups and Dips and hanging on the bars for fun," LaVar stated in an interview. "They was into it because they would see who could do one, and then the other one would try and do two, and as they got older, they'd say 'Dad, let me go in there, I can do them by myself.' It was like a competition thing for all of them. When you're a young kid hanging out with your pops, it's a game. It's not, 'Oh we have to go work out again?"
When Lonzo reached the age of 12, LaVar began adding weights to their workouts, with moves like the Bench Press and the Military Press, just like LaVar’s dad did with him when he was a little kid. Under the supervision, and the coaching of LaVar, the three sons (Lonzo first), were working out at home five days a week. LaVar was also pushing them to sprint and run up ‘the hill’ a mile-long distance, to a park near the Ball’s home in Chino Hills. LaVar wanted his sons to be like the Golden State Warriors, to run the court in transition, hit the three-pointers and find open guys on the perimeter, and so endurance, practice, and working out as much as possible were some of the requirements.
LaVar Ball also commented on the passion, and the style of play he taught his sons play the game of basketball:
"If you play the game three to four minutes hard with no fouls, that's how you get teams tired. Sometimes you just let them go, let them score, just so you can throw it down the court and run the other way. They can't take their players out of the game unless you call a timeout. That's how we would do it. Teams would play their hearts out in the first half, and then after that they were done. It's not even about what my boys can do as far as shooting and layups and all that, it's just the conditioning that was so high."
Since he was a kid, Lonzo Ball would play basketball in his home at Chino Hills, workout with his father, work on his shooting, his weaknesses, his passing abilities, his endurance. LaVar made Lonzo love the game of basketball. LaVar also has stated that he always believed Lonzo was the best player in the world at his age and has numerously times said it: “I always said that he was the best. I was like; go around the backyard, you’ll see the best player in the world practicing” while talking about his son.
In his early years in High School, Lonzo Ball attended the Chino Hills High School in California. In his two years as a freshman and sophomore, Lonzo showed glimpses of his talent, the way he could handle the ball and pass it to his open teammates, as he played in 29 games (freshman) averaging 13.8 points per game. As a junior in 2014-2015, Lonzo took his game to another level, showcasing his passing skills, his passing mentality, the way he could orchestrate the offense and lead his High School team to victories. Lonzo had already started thinking the NBA. The winning mentality he had from his father, the way he wanted to get the others involved, and the way he manipulated the offense with just one pass was what caught the eye of many different scouts from the NBA, but also universities including UCLA.
As a junior, the 16-year old at the time Lonzo, averaged 25.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 9.1 assists, 5.0 blocks and 5.0 steals. His numbers alone, were really impressive, to go along with his style of play, and highlight plays that made him even more famous and impressive all-around the country. In his senior year, he led the school to a 35–0 (!) record and a state title; which showed his winning mentality and the way he made his team better. The Huskies were eventually ranked the consensus No. 1 team in the nation. Ball averaged a triple-double with averages of 23.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game and was also spectacular to watch. He received national honors including the Naismith Prep Player of the Year, Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year, USA Today Boys Basketball Player of the Year, and Mr. Basketball USA. His younger brothers, junior LiAngelo and freshman LaMelo, were also on the team, helping the team and following their old brother’s footsteps.
In November 2015, he got an offer and eventually signed with the UCLA Bruins, to a full scholarship. His vision, his passing skills, his winning mentality and the way he made everyone around him better were the different skills he had attracted many NBA teams for the 2017 NBA Draft including the Los Angeles Lakers, who could possibly have a Top-5 pick. The way he affected the Bruins in such a positive way was something so unique and special about him. In 2015-2016 the Bruins had a 15-17 record, but that changed with Lonzo Ball leading the way. Ball led the nation in assists and ultimately changed the style of play for the team but also affected the team’s success positively. Later in the year, Ball was named the MVP of the Wooden Legacy tournament, after he led UCLA to a win over Texas A&M in the championship game. He remained on the Wooden Award list in midseason, when he was also joined by Leaf, as UCLA was one of just five schools with two candidates on the list. This shows how talented and amazing he was in his college days at UCLA and how he helped his team become one of the best teams in the nation with a 31-5 (!) record.
Lonzo Ball finally led UCLA to the NCAA March Madness tournament, with one of the eight best record in the nation. Their run ended in a loss vs. the Kentucky Wildcats in the Top-16 of the tournament, but Lonzo Ball had already caught the eye of many scouts in the NBA and teams. In the 36 games he played with the Bruins, he averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game. His physical skills, his athletic skills, the way he uses his size and height over smaller defenders, his transition game, and high basketball IQ are some of his skills that attracted many scouts and reasons as to why he was finally drafted at the No. 2 pick with the LA Lakers.
Lonzo Ball is a game changer in the transition game; as a passer and as a scorer. He has an excellent open court speed which is also 29.6% of his offense. He is quick from end to end, as he pushes the tempo, but he also sprints the floor as a secondary passer which makes it easier for the team to break a defense down. In secondary break situations, Lonzo makes passing contagious with his high IQ and passing gift. He has an average frame, but has an elite height for his position at 6’6’’, he has a solid length for a point guard at 6’9’’, he can rebound the basketball and throw outlet passes as well as bully smaller defenders and take them to the rim. He can easily hit the weak side shooter, and can also perfect in pick & roll situations. He hits the roller with lobs and has this unique style of finishing with the high-arcing floater when guarded. Overall he worked on his style of play offensively in UCLA and this summer while working out with the Lakers, and during the Las Vegas Summer League, as he led the team to the Las Vegas title. He finally was drafted by the Lakers at No. 2, and made his NBA debut with the Lakers against the Clippers at the Las Vegas Summer League this July.
He had a triple-double in his second summer league game against the Boston Celtics.
In the Las Vegas Summer League, Lonzo Ball led the Lakers squad to the championship, even though he did not participate in the championship game. He averaged 16.3 points, 9.3 assists (summer league leading), 7.7 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game, as he took home the Las Vegas Summer League MVP Award. Lakers coach Luke Walton commented on Lonzo’s impressive Summer League:
"Lonzo definitely gave the team a lot of confidence as this thing went along," Walton said. "The way he plays, he's always got his poise about him, just an incredible basketball player. And with the unselfish nature he plays the game, it just becomes contagious, and I think other guys started picking up and playing off of that."
Ball became the third top-two draft pick to be named MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League, joining Blake Griffin (2009) and John Wall (2010). During the tournament, many people questioned Lonzo’s shooting form, the way he shoots, but also if he is actually a good three-point shooter because in his early games he was struggling from the three-point line (0/11 his first game) and finished averaging a poor 23.4% from deep in the tournament. His dad had a different opinion on a radio interview on Mornings with Keyshawn, Jorge and LZ on ESPN LA 710 that his son doesn't need to adjust his shooting form.
"Oh, ain't nobody tinkering with his shot. He's going to shoot the same way, comfortable, like I said, who cares about his shot," LaVar said. "Here's the thing: He missed a lot of shots in the first few games. They act like the percentage is going to stay there. He'll go about four or five games where he'll go 4-for-5, 6-for-8. It will catch up with him. So it's not a big deal. And it'll come out to a percentage where he's always been: in the high 40s."
Lakers manager Rob Panilka also commented on Lonzo with high praise on him, the way he plays, his mentality to go along with his youth.
"We are in a league right now that is kind of dominated by scoring point guards. "And there's some great ones -- don't get me wrong. But to kind of have this young kid come along, 19 years old, he is really changing the waypoint guards play with a pass first, getting your teammates going first. It is amazing to watch. We feel like the way he's playing can really transform our whole team."
According to different players, executives, experts, Lonzo Ball can become a really special player in the NBA and lead the Lakers back to where they are supposed to be. His new challenge starts this October with the Lakers first game vs the Clippers. The pressure from his dad, from Magic Johnson, the Laker fans will be there, and so Lonzo Ball will have to show the world if he actually is a transcended NBA player. His story, however, has already started. Between now and in 20 years time he will be compared to many different players in the NBA like Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson but he will write his own history with the things he will do on the court. He controls his destiny.