The 2017 NBA Draft was truly a shining moment for Lavar Ball and his family, as he watched the Lakers draft his son Lonzo Ball just as he had hoped and even predicted. One Ball brother was walking across the podium to shake the commissioner’s hand, and the possibility that the remaining two would do the same within the next few years was definitely there; and while I didn’t own a pair of Zo2‘s nor did I own the $50 hat which Lonzo’s favorite teammate Kyle Kuzma claimed to be $600, I was nevertheless the #1 Big Baller Brand head I knew.
This past summer came and went for the Ball brothers: Lonzo collected himself the Summer League’s MVP trophy, LiAngelo got ready for his freshman year at UCLA, and the same for LaMelo in his Junior year at Chino Hills High. Then things got a little tricky: in early October, because of his disdain for the current head coach at Chino Hills, Lavar made the decision to pull LaMelo out of school and instead train his son, himself. Here’s what Lavar had to say about the move in a phone call with ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne:
“I’m not dealing with the coach over there. I’m not dealing with the administration over there. I don’t want no distractions on Melo. So therefore I’m going to home school him and make him the best basketball player ever.”
Then came the arrest of LiAngelo along with two of his UCLA teammates in November for shoplifting in a Louis Vuitton store outside their hotel prior to their season opener in China. LiAngelo’s arrest made national headlines, as Chinese laws could have had them face up to three to ten years in prison for grand larceny. LiAngelo and his teammates were placed on house arrest in the hotel up until Trump (President) “intervened” in order to get the players back to the states, where they were suspended indefinitely by UCLA. However, the suspension was apparently just too long for Lavar’s liking, as he decided to pull LiAngelo out of UCLA two weeks ago and instead have him “prepare for the draft.” And so rather than making the most out of a bad situation, Lavar elected to make the worst….out of an awful situation. But that’s not all….
This past Monday (Dec 11th), 19-year-old LiAngelo and 16-year-old LaMelo both signed one-year contracts to play for Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas of Prienai, Lithuania, just a few days after both deciding to sign with an agent, a move which thus eliminates their ability to ever play college basketball. Starting in January, the younger Ball brothers will play alongside teammates who speak little to no English for a coach with a “volatile temper” who also speaks zero English.
The Ball’s to Lithuania is a disaster waiting to happen (I played there for a year and hated it). This is a picture of the teams gym that the Ball brothers would play at. Not exactly BIG BALLER material #BBB pic.twitter.com/STkQ57YRS5
— Ben Brust (@BenBrust) December 11, 2017
While it’s been reported that the brothers will likely play in the Baltic League for Prienai’s Junior team, the move to professional basketball at this point in their careers is truly alarming. While I wholeheartedly believe that LaMelo Ball is the most talented of the Ball brothers (despite what anybody says about cherrypicking, just watch my man’s game, he’s a top 10 recruit in the country for a reason), he is nowhere near ready to compete with the physicality of professional basketball overseas. And it’s pretty safe to say that his style of play certainly won’t be tolerated as easily by his Lithuanian teammates as it was by his Chino Hills teammates.
The news of Lavar pulling LaMelo out of Chino Hills was definitely a little disappointing, yet, not completely surprising; they probably would have had a formidable season especially with the rise of the Ball brothers’ cousin, Andre Ball, but the issues between Lavar and the new Chino Hills coach were just too considerable for LaMelo to continue to play for them. And while Lavar did say that he would train LaMelo himself, I truly believed in the prospects of that not lasting and that LaMelo would at some point either transfer to a different school or enroll in some sort of Homeschool Youth Basketball Association, kinda like the one Kings forward Justin Jackson played in prior to attending UNC.
The move to Lithuania will undoubtedly affect LiAngelo far more than his brother. While LiAngelo is truly a gifted shooter and has without a doubt shown the ability to put the ball in the basket, even once dropping 72 points in a game (one game after scoring 56), his athleticism is questionable especially for his size and so his future in the NBA was already uncertain. After his departure from UCLA it was claimed that nearly no scouts even considered him to be an NBA prospect, and so he very much needed college in order to prove his game more than anything.
Despite the rumors that the brothers may actually only be playing for Prienai for about a month, what could possibly be next for LiAngelo and LaMelo? LiAngelo’s theft in China probably just about bans the Ball family from ever entering the country again let alone playing in a league over there. And while it would be nice to see LaMelo become a young star on a bigger European team in Ricky Rubio/Luka Doncic fashion, it’s plain to see that at least at this point there’s no chance of an elite EuroLeague team ever wanting to contend with Lavar Ball’s mouth.
You may not believe it but there is indeed a faction of Lavar Ball supporters who see the decision to have his sons turn professional at this point in their basketball careers is a good thing, as they’d be profiting off of their talents rather than dealing with the corruption that is the NCAA. But did LiAngelo’s crime in China really have to lead to all of this? Why is it that LiAngelo couldn’t just accept UCLA’s “indefinite suspension” and hope that the word “indefinite” only meant just a few games? Why is it that neither LiAngelo nor LaMelo couldn’t transfer schools when the problems with their respective previous schools arose? Why is it that for the Ball family, it’s UCLA and package deals, or nothing? Only Lavar knows the answer to these questions, but at this point I’m good off an explanation.
If you’d like to keep up with the Lithuania-bound Ball Brothers, follow: