LaMelo Ball is one of the most interesting prospects ahead of the 2020 NBA Draft, as the 18-year-old youngest of the Ball brothers hones his craft overseas in Australia.
For a player who was best known early in his brief high school career for hoisting three-pointers from all over the court, LaMelo has become an elite passer, with his court vision and passing acumen as his most valuable on-court assets right now. His shooting efficiency remains a major question mark, as does his on-ball defense, but at 6’7 with tremendous length and feel for the game, he’s currently projected by most everyone to be a top-5 pick come next June.
That Ball has managed to become this elite a prospect in the face of all the public scrutiny he’s faced since he was a 14-year-old freshman chucking threes for Chino Hills High is nothing short of astounding. He’s had NBA expectations for much of his life and seems all but assured of meeting those, despite a famously unconventional path through his teenage years that’s taken him from L.A. to Lithuania to Ohio to, now, Australia.
Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report profiled the young star in the making recently in an illuminating look into the life off the court of a player that’s been in the public eye for years. It’s a fascinating read that offers a look at Ball in a way we’ve rarely seen him, highlighting the vast differences between he and his outspoken father, LaVar. It’s a dichotomy that LaMelo himself is keenly aware of and it seems that in some ways it frustrates him that he is assumed to be an apple that has not fallen far from the tree.
“I’m just misunderstood,” LaMelo says. “About everything.” That’s, of course, partially because of his father. Assumptions that people have are fed by whatever his father says or does. “It gets attached to us,” LaMelo says. “I mean, at the end of the day, that’s my dad. I know him. He knows me. That’s always going to be a bond.”
“I just play basketball,” LaMelo adds. “Whatever he say, he say. I don’t—” He cuts off.
The profile offers a glimpse into the very complicated dynamics of their father-son relationship. At one point LaMelo snipes back at those that say his father is ruining his career, noting LaVar is the reason he’s in the position he is, but also illustrates the way LaMelo seems to be begrudgingly dragged into the spotlight by LaVar through vehicles like Ball in the Family and the fiasco that was his stint in Lithuania.
Through it all, LaMelo has become one of the elite prospects in the world, which is remarkable given the situations he’s been put in. Jermaine Jackson, LaMelo’s mentor and manager who is living with the 18-year-old in Australia, seems to illustrate just how remarkable when he was asked by Fader why LaMelo was sent to the Ilwarra Hawks and not a better team in Australia or a more competitive league elsewhere.
Sitting next to Jackson on the sideline, I ask why LaMelo’s family sent him here when there are much more competitive destinations, like Sydney, or teams in the EuroLeague. Perhaps Spain. “Connections,” Jackson says. He won’t reveal which ones, instead saying: “If you know someone at a hair salon, you’re gonna go to that salon. It’s never about what’s best for the kid. It’s about what’s best for the rest.”
It’s a telling quote that says an awful lot about everything that’s transpired since Ball was plucked out of Chino Hills High in 2016. LaMelo seems wholly focused on doing what’s necessary on the court to get to the NBA and while there are funny anecdotes that remind you he’s still just an 18-year-old, such as him hating veggies that aren’t lettuce to the point that he “swallows them whole,” the maturity needed to get himself to this level of a player with so many possible distractions and bumps in the road is nothing short of impressive.