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LaMelo Ball

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LaMelo Ball
LaMelo Ball Vytautas.jpg
Ball with Vytautas in April 2018
No. 1 – Los Angeles Ballers
Position Point guard / Shooting guard
League JBA
Personal information
Born (2001-08-22) August 22, 2001 (age 16)
Chino Hills, California
Nationality American
Listed height 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)
Listed weight 165 lb (75 kg)
Career information
High school Chino Hills (Chino Hills, California)
Playing career 2018–present
Career history
2018 Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas
2018–present Los Angeles Ballers

LaMelo LaFrance Ball[1] (born August 22, 2001) is an American professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Ballers of the Junior Basketball Association (JBA). A 16-year-old point guard, he verbally committed to play college basketball for the UCLA Bruins at age 13 but later dropped his college plans to pursue a professional career with Lithuanian club Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas. Ball played for Chino Hills High School in Chino Hills, California, gaining national exposure in 2015–16 while playing with his brothers: current Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo and former UCLA signee LiAngelo. His father LaVar grew into a media personality in 2017.

In his first season at Chino Hills, Ball won a state championship and was recognized as one of the top freshmen in the country. As a sophomore, he made headlines after making a half-court shot in December 2016 and returned to prominence following a 92-point game vs. Los Osos High School in February 2017. Throughout his high school years, he was ranked among the top players in his class. Ball has over 3.8 million followers on Instagram. He is one of the most publicized high school-aged basketball players, with a signature shoe by his father's company Big Baller Brand and a role on the Facebook Watch reality show Ball in the Family.

Early life

Ball was born to LaVar and Tina Ball, who are both former college basketball players. LaVar, who stands 6-foot-6 (1.98 m), competed with Washington State and then Cal State Los Angeles. Tina, who stands 6-feet (1.8 m), also played with the latter school.[2] Later on, LaVar played professional American football as a tight end for the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football after being loaned from the New York Jets.[3]

They always played six and seven years up. When they were in kindergarten and [LaMelo] was like four years old, we were playing fourth and fifth-grade teams. Then when Lonzo got to the eighth grade, we were playing eighth- and ninth-grade teams. When you get to high school and you're 14, that senior is going to be 18. That's a four-year gap.

LaVar Ball on his sons' early experience playing basketball[2]

LaMelo began playing basketball at age four with his brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo. Growing up, the trio played on teams coached by their father, including Big Ballers VXT of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), where they would continue playing into high school.[4][5][2] During his childhood, LaMelo mainly played against opponents several years older than him. In a high school summer league game, facing players of ages 16 and 17, he scored 29 points.[6][7] USA Today High School Sports compared Ball's ability to "dominate" older competition as reminiscent of LeBron James.[7] By age 13, he stood 5-foot-7 (1.7 m).[5]

Ball verbally committed to play college basketball for UCLA at the age of 13, before starting high school,[8][9] becoming the third of his brothers to do so.[8] LaMelo, who was also recruited by Virginia and Washington State at the time, said that UCLA was his "dream school."[10]

High school career

Freshman

Ball began high school at Chino Hills High School in Chino Hills, California (pictured).

In June 2015, Ball joined Chino Hills High School in Chino Hills, California, where he would play basketball under head coach Steve Baik. Also on the team, nicknamed the Huskies, were his brothers, as well as cousin Andre Ball.[11] In his debut on June 16, LaMelo scored 27 points with five three-pointers as a starter against John Muir High School.[12] On June 27, Ball recorded 20 points vs. Centennial High School.[13] On November 30, Ball scored 20 points in a 131–42 win over San Bernardino High School.[14]

In March 2016, Chino Hills won the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Southern Section Open Division championship against Sierra Canyon School, with Ball scoring 26 points and shooting 11-for-17 from the field.[15] Later that month, the Huskies qualified for the state championship as the top ranked team in the nation.[16] On March 27, Ball had 14 points and five assists to propel Chino Hills to the title victory over De La Salle High School. The team closed the season with a perfect 35–0 record.[17] MaxPreps.com named Ball, along with teammate Onyeka Okongwu, Co-Freshman of the Year. Ball, who averaged 16.4 points and 3.8 assists, additionally made the MaxPreps Boys' Basketball Freshman All-American First Team.[18][19]

Sophomore

For LaMelo's sophomore season, Chino Hills lost top player Lonzo Ball and coach Steve Baik.[20] On November 30, 2016, LaMelo recorded 31 points against Rancho Christian High School while LiAngelo scored 72.[21] By December, LaMelo was averaging more than 30 points per game for the Huskies.[22] In late December, Ball made a half-court shot only a few seconds into a game.[23] The shot received widespread media coverage, including from ESPN, CBS Sports, and Sports Illustrated.[24][25][26] Stephen Curry commented on the shot, saying, "That was some confidence right there. The fact that he made it, I wonder if he's done it before and missed it. It's the highlight-driven generation, so that right there was pretty unbelievable, though. For him to call his shot like Babe Ruth and knock it down and act like nothing happened."[27] On January 10, 2017, Ball scored a team-high 35 points, leading Chino Hills to its 52nd straight win.[28] Ball lost his first high school game on February 5, when Oak Hill Academy ended the Huskies' 60-game winning streak.[29]

NFHS Basketball
Top Scoring Games Since 2000
[30]
Player School Year Points
Cedrick Hensley Heritage Christian (TX) 2001 101
Tigran Grigorian Mesrobian (CA) 2003 100
Dajuan Wagner Camden (NJ) 2001 100
LaMelo Ball Chino Hills (CA) 2017 92
Henry Uhegwu Gulf Shores (TX) 2002 92

In his next game on February 7, Ball drew national news coverage after scoring 92 points in a 146–123 victory over Los Osos High School, while LiAngelo was sidelined with an ankle injury.[31][32] LaMelo recorded 63 points in the second half alone, and he made 37 of 61 shots in the entire game.[33][34] It was the second best scoring performance in California high school basketball history.[35] Ball was criticized for cherry picking, as he often waited near half court to get an open shot on his next possession instead of trying to prevent the opponent from scoring.[36] Charles Barkley said, "The kid waited at the other end of the court and just every time the other team shot the ball. They just threw to him at half-court or three-quarters of the court. I have a serious problem with that, to be honest with you."[36] Ball used the game to draw attention towards Chino Hills student Alexis Anderson, who was diagnosed with a rare heart condition.[37]

In late July 2017, Ball participated with his AAU team, Big Ballers Brand, at the Adidas Summer Championships at Cashman Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. He led the event in scoring, posting over 35 points in back-to-back games.[38] On July 27, Ball starred in a highly anticipated AAU game vs. Zion Williamson and SC Supreme. Although LaMelo scored 31 points, SC Supreme emerged victorious, behind Williamson's 28 points. According to Adidas, up to 4,000 people, including Andrew Wiggins, Damian Lillard, and multiple other NBA players, were in attendance.[39] LeBron James reportedly planned on sitting courtside for the game but turned away for security reasons.[40] A live stream from Ballislife.com received about 822,000 views.[41] The game was extensively covered by the media, with an ESPN feature story calling Big Ballers Brand's AAU campaign "The LaVar Ball show."[42]

Junior

The coach made a comment the other day. He said, 'all those 50 shots a game, that's going to stop.' So I'm like, 'Wow.' And every kid he talks to, he asks which AAU program they play for and as soon as they mention my name, he goes the other way. I'm not going to put my son through all that.

LaVar Ball on Chino Hills coach Dennis Latimore after LaMelo's departure in October 2017.

Before his junior season for Chino Hills in 2017–18, the team hired Dennis Latimore as its new head coach.[43] Shortly after, LaVar Ball expressed his disapproval, saying, "There's about to be new drama. I don't like him one bit."[43] Concerns also later arose over LaMelo's National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) eligibility due to his signature shoe, the Melo Ball 1 (MB1), which had been released by Big Baller Brand in August 2017.[44][45] His father claimed in September that he was willing to have him skip college as a result.[46] On October 2, 2017, LaVar pulled him out of Chino Hills to be homeschooled, citing his dissatisfaction with Latimore and the school administration as the primary motive.[47] He said that he wanted to avoid "distractions" for LaMelo and would personally train him at home.[48]

On December 7, 2017, Ball signed with agent Harrison Gaines to play professionally overseas alongside his brother LiAngelo.[49] The decision ensured that he would not play in the NCAA.[50] In the following days, Gaines offered the brothers to teams in various European countries and also Japan, with hopes of them playing together.[51][52][53][54]

US college sports recruiting information for high school athletes
Name Hometown High school / college Height Weight Commit date
LaMelo Ball
PG
Chino Hills, CA Chino Hills (CA) 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 160 lb (73 kg) Jul 31, 2015 
Recruiting star ratings: ScoutN/A   Rivals:5/5 stars   247Sports:4/5 stars    ESPN:5/5 stars   ESPN grade: 95
Overall recruiting rankings:   247Sports: 37, 4 (PG), 5 (CA)  ESPN: 7, 2 (PG), 1 (CA)
  • Note: In many cases, Scout, Rivals, 247Sports, and ESPN may conflict in their listings of height and weight.
  • In these cases, the average was taken. ESPN grades are on a 100-point scale.

Sources:

Professional career

Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas (2018)

During his brief time with Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas, Ball played his home games at Prienai Arena (pictured).

On December 11, 2017, Ball signed with Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas of the Lithuanian Basketball League (LKL) and Baltic Basketball League (BBL), along with his brother LiAngelo.[55] Although they both had the option of leaving after a month, they later chose to stay for the remainder of the season.[56] LaMelo reportedly became the youngest American to ever sign a professional basketball contract.[57] They arrived in the country with LaVar Ball on January 3, 2018 and continued to receive significant media attention in the United States.[58][59] Most notably, ESPN reporter Jeff Goodman traveled to Lithuania to cover the family's first week with the team.[60] Days later, Vytautas announced its withdrawal from the BBL and the subsequent creation of the Big Baller Brand Challenge Games, a series of five exhibition games through January 2018 that would give the Ball brothers more playing time against mostly teams in the second-division National Basketball League (NKL).[61]

Ball played his first contest in the Big Baller Brand Challenge Games on January 9, recording 10 points and nine assists, with six turnovers, in a 90–80 win over Žalgiris-2 Kaunas, a squad of under-18 players.[62] On January 13, he made his professional debut in an 86–95 loss to Lietkabelis Panevėžys in LKL competition. In five minutes on the court, he went scoreless, shooting 0-of-4 from the field.[63] Ball scored his first points at the professional level on January 21, 2018, recording 13 points and two steals, shooting 3-of-10 from the field, in a 93–116 defeat to Pieno žvaigždės Pasvalys.[64][65] On January 23, in a 147–142 victory at the Big Baller Brand Challenge Games, he recorded 43 points, 10 assists, and 8 rebounds against Dzūkija Alytus.[66] In the game, his father LaVar served as an assistant coach.[67] On February 4, Ball scored a career-high 19 points, including four three-pointers, and six assists in 27 minutes in a loss to Žalgiris Kaunas.[68] A week later, Ball received his first LKL start, finishing scoreless and missing four shots in a 95–93 win over Šiauliai.[69]

On February 26, 2018, in the Big Baller Brand International Tournament loss to Wilki Morskie Szczecin, Ball suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for one month.[70][71] Bleacher Report published an in-depth article on Ball's career in Lithuania two days later, titled "The LaMelo Show," covering his first month at the professional level.[72] On April 2, Ball recorded a triple-double of 39 points, 16 rebounds, and 16 assists in a 127–110 win over the London Lions in an exhibition game in London.[73] On April 25, it was announced that both Ball and his brother were leaving Vytautas, with their father expressing resentment towards the team's head coach Virginijus Šeškus.[74][75] He finished the LKL season averaging 6.5 points and 2.4 assists, with a field goal percentage of .268, in 12.8 minutes per game.[76]

Los Angeles Ballers (2018–present)

On May 4, 2018, Ball signed with the Los Angeles Ballers of the Junior Basketball Association (JBA), a league created by his father LaVar as an alternative to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).[77] Entering its inaugural season, the JBA touted Ball as its "marquee player."[78] In his debut on June 21, he posted a triple-double of 40 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, and 3 steals, shooting 15-of-40 from the field, in a 134–124 win over the New York Ballers.[79][80] Ball recorded a season-high 44 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 steals in a June 29 defeat to New York, shooting 12-of-35 from the field.[81] In his first three games, he shot 3-of-32 from the three-point line, which was labeled as "extraordinarily awful" by USA Today.[82] During the second half of the JBA's inaugural season, Ball would be reunited as teammates once again with his older brother, LiAngelo. In their first game together, they both recorded a triple-double, with LaMelo recording 25 points, a season-high 17 rebounds, and a league-high 19 assists in a 171–140 win over the Philadelphia Ballers.[83]

Player profile

Standing 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m),[84] Ball is considered a relatively tall point guard with a long wingspan.[85] Earlier in his high school career, he was primarily considered a volume shooter.[86] Currently, however, he is known to be a proficient three-point shooter while also having the ability to make inside shots.[85] Ball frequently attempts long three-pointers, which has drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry.[87] His style of play has been described as "erratic," and he has been criticized for taking too many shots.[88][89] He has been slammed for frequently being uninvolved on the defensive end as well.[88] Virginijus Šeškus, his head coach back when he was with the Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas, remarked about LaMelo: "You can't control that little chipmunk. You say, 'Don't shoot 40-footers.' Next thing you know, he's shooting 40-footers."[90]

Off the court

In his high school basketball career, Ball has been regularly featured by national sports media and has also gained significant popularity on social media. On August 22, 2017, his 16th birthday, USA Today High School Sports labeled him as possibly "the most famous 16-year-old basketball star ever."[91] An ESPN article called Ball a "legitimate celebrity" but tagged him as "the most hated high school athlete of all time."[92] Eric Bossi of Rivals.com said, "The LaMelo Ball phenomenon is the closest thing to Justin Bieber on a basketball court," citing both individuals' polarizing nature.[91] LaMelo's fame and divisiveness has been attributed to the popularity of family, primarily his father LaVar.[93][41] As of January 2018, Ball has 3.8 million followers on Instagram, putting him ahead of both Adidas Basketball and Under Armour Basketball.[94][95]

Public image

Ball (right) with his father LaVar and brother LiAngelo post-game in 2018.

On June 26, 2017, LaMelo, along with Lonzo and LaVar, appeared on a segment of WWE Raw.[96] After his father ripped off his shirt in a confrontation with The Miz on the show, LaMelo yelled, "Beat that nigga ass!"[97] Following the family's appearance, WWE commented on Ball's words in a statement: "The inappropriate language used by a guest during the 'Miz TV' segment was not scripted nor reflects WWE's values."[96]

For LaMelo's 16th birthday, LaVar bought him a Lamborghini. The younger Ball first publicized his new car in a promotional video for his signature MB1 shoes, and SLAM Magazine confirmed that LaMelo, in fact, owned it.[44][98] The purchase of the car raised questions about its effect on LaMelo's work ethic and sparked debate on social media.[99][100] NBA star Kevin Durant tweeted, "Young Melo with the Lambo. Stop playin wit shorty, he really out here," and also argued with a Twitter user that was critical of the birthday present.[100]

Business interests

Big Baller Brand

They're not going to tell me what I can do for my son and my family. He's not even in the NCAA, and that's the first thing they're coming up with instead of saying, 'Oh, that's a nice shoe. Your dad just gave a shoe to him, a signature shoe that he can play in that's to his specifications.' They're not looking at that part. They're looking at, 'How can we make it negative?' By saying, 'Oh, he's got to be ineligible for that. Gotta be.' No, it never happened before, so what are you saying?

LaVar Ball on LaMelo's NCAA eligibility questions.[101]

In April 2016, the Ball family announced the launch of a sports apparel brand called Big Baller Brand.[102] On August 31, 2017, it announced the release of a signature shoe for LaMelo, called the Melo Ball 1 (MB1), which would be released in the following months. According to Big Baller Brand, the shoe is exceptionally light upon a request by Ball himself. The MB1 is currently priced at $395.[44][103] On September 8, 2017, Lonzo released his first rap single, which was titled "Melo Ball 1" and publicized the shoe.[104][105]

The announcement of the MB1 made LaMelo the first high schooler with a signature shoe but also raised questions about his eligibility to play in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).[45] A statement by NCAA spokesperson Emily James said, "Generally speaking, a college athlete or prospect paid for use of their athletics reputation or ability risks their future eligibility in that sport. This includes profiting from the sale of items bearing the young person's name. NCAA rules, however, do allow prospects to promote commercial products prior to enrollment, provided it is not for pay."[101] Ball's father, however, responded by saying, "NCAA ain't going to tell me s---" and suggesting that LaMelo would possibly skip college for that reason.[101] The claims were confirmed in December 2017, when Ball signed with an agent, ensuring that he would not play college basketball.[49]

Reality television

In early July 2017, Deadline Hollywood reported the development of a Facebook reality show that would feature the Ball family. It would be a part of a larger project for Facebook to enter the video business.[106] Weeks later, the show was announced was Ball in the Family. It began airing exclusively on the social media website on August 31, with the following episodes airing every Sunday from September 10.[107][108] A second season of the show began in November 2017 and continued to be filmed into 2018 despite LaMelo's move to Lithuania.[109][110] It was produced by Bunim/Murray Productions, which also helped create the reality TV series Keeping Up with the Kardashians on E! and Real World on MTV.[111] LaVar has been considered the main focus of the show, with LaMelo and his brothers taking supporting roles.[112]

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