SACRAMENTO, Calif. – UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball dribbled around the court Thursday at Golden 1 Center in preparation for his team’s opening game of the NCAA Tournament.
With nearly every shot he took, fans yelled out: “You’re better than Steph!”
This has become Ball’s world since his father, LaVar, proclaimed the talented freshman better than NBA MVP Steph Curry.
Ball took the comments in stride and went about his business, just as he has with each of his father’s increasingly-audacious statements.
“He’s been like that my whole life. It’s nothing new to me,” he said. “He’s got a camera in front of his face now so y’all are seeing it for the first time. … He’s never going to change for the cameras. He’s been the same his whole life.”
LaVar Ball has always been outspoken and has moved more into the public eye as the postseason arrived.
In recent weeks, the elder Ball has claimed he would have beaten Michael Jordan one-on-one in his heyday, said Lonzo is better than Curry and the NBA will be easier for him than college, and that he plans to negotiate a $1 billion shoe deal for his sons. He has also lashed out at Charles Barkley and said Lebron James’ sons don’t stand much of a chance at becoming basketball stars.
On the eve of Lonzo’s first NCAA Tournament game – against Kent State on Friday – his father’s antics and pronouncements could threaten to shift the 19-year-old’s focus away from the court.
No chance, his coach says.
“It’s been no distraction to us and a lot of that has to do with Lonzo, who he is, a strong-willed kid, way beyond his 18 years of age,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “He’s a special talent both mentally and physically, and it’s how he’s wired. He’s been built this way. He’s been built for this.”
LaVar Ball helped turn the Ball brothers in the ballin’ brothers.
A hoops version of Earl Woods (Tiger) and Richard Williams (Venus and Serena), the Ball patriarch started his kids early, getting them to jump off the first step of the staircase in the family home at age 2 and work back as they got older. He had them run sprints up dirt hills and doing pull-ups at 9, lifting weights by 12.
When it came to basketball, LaVar decided to create his own team rather than go the usual AAU route, filling the roster for the Big Ballers VXT mostly with kids from the Chino Hills area. The game they played was fast and furious, no pace too quick, no shot too far.
LiAngelo is a senior at Chino Hills High School who will play at UCLA. LaMelo, a sophomore also committed to the Bruins, has already become a viral sensation with his halfcourt shooting and 92-point night this season.
Lonzo is the oldest and, for at least now, the most prominent.
The 6-foot-6 guard led the nation in assists (7.7) his first collegiate season and orchestrated the highest-scoring team in Division I basketball. He’s a confident leader, a big reason the Bruins are expected to make a deep NCAA Tournament run and projected in some mock drafts to be the No. 1 overall NBA pick this summer.
Lonzo has done it all while fitting within the framework of UCLA’s offense.
While LaVar has been accused of criticizing his sons’ high school coaches, he has mostly allowed Alford to do his job.
Lonzo is UCLA’s third-leading scorer at 14.6 points per game, yet plays more with a pass-first, do-whatever-it-takes mentality. Despite his shot being criticized – ball to the left of his head, right arm angled out instead of perpendicular to the floor – he shot 41 percent from 3-point range, 54 percent overall.
“He’s a very smart basketball player,” UCLA senior guard Bryce Alford said. “He knows what he’s doing out there and he does a great job of be not letting pressure get to him. Obviously, with who he is there is a lot of pressure that comes behind the name that he has in college basketball. He hasn’t let that get to him all year.”
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