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NBA AM: The Next Upcoming Star

UCLA commit Lonzo Ball (pictured right) is a special player who could become a star down the road.



You might not know UCLA commit Lonzo Ball yet, but you will.

The 6’5 point guard out of California is about as unique a player as exists in high school basketball this year and already looks destined for a date with an NBA lottery team in about 15 months. He recently played in the McDonald’s All-American Game and tied the event’s record with 13 assists. He also was named the Gatorade California State Player of the Year, though what really makes him special is the skill set he provides at his height.

Big point guards are nothing new, but big point guards with this kind of vision and well-rounded offensive arsenal definitely are worth getting a little riled up about.

His story is an interesting one, too. This past year, Ball played for a 35-0 Chino Hills team that obviously won the state championship, a 20-point win that proved to be the closest matchup of the season. Both of his brothers, 17-year-old LiAngelo and 14-year-old LaMelo, were heavy hitters in that lineup right along with Lonzo, and their father, LaVar Ball, is a personal trainer who got his kids in the gym early and often enough to already find themselves among the elite ranks in their recruiting classes.

“I give a lot of credit to my dad. He’s been training us for this almost our whole lives, and without him I don’t think I’d be on the path I’m on today,” Ball told Basketball Insiders. “We’re all very grateful for him.”

Lonzo’s father had them start working on ball-handling and shooting drills at four or five years old. He never signed them up for AAU, but did get all three of them together on a touring team that he typically scheduled against significantly older competition. LaMelo, the youngest of the brothers, has even been involved in 17U ball since he was 11 years old.

They’re a family full of prodigies, but being given access to a gym and proper training early on certainly didn’t hurt anything, especially since they all loved the game so much.

“At age 7 or 8, I’m not running around on the playground – I’m in the gym getting shots up,” Ball said. “But I’ve always just loved the game of basketball. Whatever kids find fun about playing on the playground, that was me being in the gym, out on a court. Some kids are out playing with toys, and I was shooting free throws. I loved it.”

All that hard work and training culminated in a single year of high school basketball that saw one of the most dominant teams in California prep history annihilate the competition on a nightly basis. Their first game of this most recent season, for example, was an 89-point victory. Clearly, it’s fun to do that kind of damage with the people you love most in the world.

“It’s great playing with my two brothers,” Ball said. “You can go out and play, then come home and talk about what went down. They’re also there the minute you wake up, so there’s going to be a lot of chemistry when it comes to playing with your brothers.

“Being out there with them is like being out there with myself because I know them so well. I’ve been playing with them for my entire life. There’s just no way to describe it. It’s been great.”

All three of them eventually will play their college ball (however briefly) at UCLA, but Lonzo will be the first starting later this year. All of them committed early, which the eldest brother admits was one of the easier decisions he’s ever made.

“I knew I wanted to stay at home, so first and foremost that had a lot to do with my decision,” Ball said, hinting that he hopes to stay close to his father and brothers even when in college. “Once I actually got there, I just fell in love with the coaching staff. Coach (Steve) Alford, Coach (David) Grace, Coach (Duane) Broussard, just the way they are out there, the atmosphere on campus… Everything about it, I just loved it.”

Call it California love, but Ball seems to just want to be where things are familiar.

“It’s Westwood. I love the people the out there,” he said. “Plus UCLA is a great school, so if something happens and I can’t play ball anymore, I can still get a degree from a good school.”

He’s going to play ball, though, probably for a very long time, so he’s not immune to the chatter about the NBA Draft. He could perhaps be there as early as June, 2017.

“When you go to UCLA, you have a good chance of coming into the league and we’ve got (fellow five-star recruit and UCLA commit) T.J. Leaf on that same path, too,” Ball said. “All those great UCLA guards that have come before, they’ve all been great, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to do the same kind of thing.”

He’s talking about the big guards that have punched their meal tickets from the UCLA experience. It’s almost uncanny how many of them have been successful in the NBA: Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Zach LaVine and Darren Collison among others.

“All of those guys are a little different, but I guess of all those UCLA guards I’m probably closest in terms of playing style to Russell Westbrook because of how much I love to get up and down the floor,” Ball said.

Yeah, he’s comparing himself to Westbrook.

Not all players would be so bold. Five-star Kentucky recruit Malik Monk, for example, found himself compared to Westbrook during a McDonald’s All-America media day session, but profusely dispelled the comparison. He didn’t want anything to do with it.

Ball, though, brought it upon himself and didn’t stop smiling confidently the entire time he said it.

Confidence is a trademark of the Ball crew. All of them, including LaVar, are known for their swagger, but Lonzo is someone who so far has backed it up with his play. He averaged a triple-double his senior year, putting up 25.4 points, 12.9 assists and 11.5 rebounds per game, which is incredible even for the fast-tempo offense that Chino Hills has been known for playing.

Now, he’s taking that confidence to the NCAA, where he’ll play for a least a year and hope to display the same measure of dominance he exhibited at the prep level.

“I want to go to Westwood and get some wins, get into the tournament and hopefully bring a National Championship back there,” Ball said.

And nothing he’s done so far in his short career has made it seem as though we shouldn’t believe him.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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