I’d rather concentrate on passing virtuoso Lonzo Ball, who as a rookie seems poised to spearhead the resurgence of his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, or UCLA freshman LiAngelo and his task of making a rather heavy-footed game work against more athletic players his size and larger. Instead, boastful father LaVar has compelled me to write about the youngest Ball, LaMelo, a Lamborghini-driving lad of sixteen who is, or at least was, a first-semester junior at Chino Hills High School.
Has LaVar already pulled his son out of school because the new coach, Dennis Lattimore, decreed that LaMelo would no longer be allowed to shoot fifty times a game and lag on defense? The paterfamilias said that’s what he’s going to do. He’s going to home school LaMelo, and personally train him in basketball, even though he’d miss critical development as a team player his final two years of high school. No matter how much a kid works out and plays gym ball, he also needs the discipline of going to practices, following the coach’s instructions, and becoming part of a cohesive team. He needs to study the season schedule and focus on those special nights when the team plays and who they play and where and what time? He needs to learn how to compete in front of crowds friendly and hostile in games officiated by serious referees and orchestrated by career coaches. There probably aren’t any NBA players who voluntarily forfeited this experience as prep juniors and seniors.
Stephan Gilling, the coach at Chino Hills last year, bridled when LaVar Ball told him how to handle the team and that he, Ball, was really running the school’s program, and even that of UCLA, as he soon would be running the NBA. Gilling was fired after the 2017 season. LaVar’s a fair comedian but less amusing as he becomes more detached from reality. Go to YouTube and watch him coach summer AAU teams featuring LaMelo. His guys generally don’t play much defense and a more disciplined team from Compton, shooting endless fast-break layups, almost doubled the Ball-team’s score in a game last summer. That’s dreadful coaching in any league. And once, when he didn’t like the officiating, he pulled his team out of the gym.
Lonzo Ball is a likely pro star because nature gave him the size, athleticism, court vision, and instincts of a special playmaker. Credit LaVar Ball for being a dedicated father but not a magical creator of NBA standouts. If LiAngelo stars as a professional, he’ll probably do so in a league like China’s where players are talented but less gifted than those in the NBA. And LaMelo? He could be facing two years of dad-imposed prep exile as well as the loss of his UCLA scholarship because he already has his own shoe brand. It’s fine he evidently has more cash for a car than most ever will – Lamborghinis cost about two hundred grand. He, and all the Ball brothers, appear to be stable and congenial young men, and that’s more important than money or basketball. But if LaMelo wants to maximize his talent, which may be of NBA caliber, he needs a coach who will teach him about prudent shot selection, passing, and defense. At that point Melo will understand all fathers must eventually let other men coach their sons.
Notes: There’s another possibility. LaMelo Ball could turn pro now and play in Europe. Many of the most talented Europeans – Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Gasol, and Kristaps Porzingis, for example – became professionals in their mid-teens. LaMelo would be far from home but getting paid to play organized team basketball.