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Is LaMelo Ball’s Path to the NBA Draft the Most Remarkable Journey in Sports History?

It’s pretty fascinating to look at what LaMelo Ball has become over recent years.

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LaMelo Ball was once recognized as one of the most famous high school players ever, now he’s viewed by many as the best player in this year’s draft. Funnily enough though, his road to becoming a top prospect was not as easy as perceived — despite the fame of the name.

From being ineligible for college to releasing signature shoes to having a reality television show to being pushed from country to country in order to pursue his hoop dreams, Ball is the ultimate basketball journeyman.

This piece is a little different from what you all are used to reading, however, this is something that has not been talked about nearly as much as it should be. LaMelo Ball’s story is an extremely fascinating one with a lot of ups and downs. Throughout this piece, I will be sharing a timeline of some of the key events in the youngest Ball brother’s life from the last seven years.

LaMelo Ball’s timeline from February 2013 to May 2020:

February 2013: After averaging 19.8 points per game as a 13-year-old in a 17-and-under AAU tournament, LaMelo Ball verbally commits to UCLA. 15-year-old brother Lonzo Ball, who is now the New Orleans Pelicans’ starting point guard, said at the time that “Melo is going to be the best out of all of us (when referring to the three Ball brothers). We’ll see.”

March 2016: Ball wins National Freshman Of The Year honors. Averages 16.4 points and 3.8 assists as a 14-year-old for the 35-0 national champion Chino Hills team while playing alongside brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo. LaMelo scored 26 points and hit the game-winner against Sierra Canyon for the CIF Southern Section title and then went on to win MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year honors, with his teammate who is also now a projected lottery pick in Onyeka Okongwu.

December 2016: LaMelo Ball goes viral after making a half-court shot almost two seconds into a game. The video gained over 15 million views across social media. Despite being the youngest out of the three brothers, Ball was starting to get a lot of hype to his name.

February 2017: LaMelo Ball begins to dominate the AAU circuit. On the 4th of February, Ball suffered his first high-school loss against Oak Hill Academy — despite scoring a game-high 36 points. Three days later, he followed the loss up by scoring 92 points in a game against Los Osos High School. Ball said the game was in dedication to his school friend Alexis Anderson, who was in need of a new heart at the time.

July 2017: LaMelo Ball finishes the season with averages of 26.8 points and 9.7 assists and is recognized by making MaxPreps Sophomore All-American Team. Later that month he scored 31 points and dished out 12 assists against Zion Williamson in one of the most anticipated high school basketball games ever. Among attendees were NBA stars LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, and John Wall.

August 2017: Lonzo, LiAngelo, LaMelo, LaVar and wife Tina star in a new reality television show, ‘Ball in the Family.’ The show streamed weekly episodes on Facebook and YouTube, and the intention of the show was to document the lives of the family. Many analysts referred to LaMelo as not only a basketball player but also a celebrity due to his common appearances on television and at events. LaMelo was also a guest on a segment of WWE Raw along with LaVar and Lonzo.

September 2017: The family introduced a sports apparel brand named ‘Big Baller Brand.’ Following hitting one million followers on Instagram, LaMelo releases a signature shoe named the ‘Melo Ball 1.’ The release of the shoe, however, threatened Ball’s college eligibility under NCAA regulations. LaVar ignored the concerns and considered having his son skip college for that reason.

October 2017: Instead of staying in high school for his junior year, father LaVar Ball pulled out LaMelo to become homeschooled due to disapproving of Chino Hills’ new head coach Dennis Latimore as well as falling out with the school’s administration. LaMelo did not mind this decision, saying that it gave him the opportunity to focus more on himself and basketball.

December 2017: The family hires an agent in Harrison Gaines, who immediately proposed the idea that LaMelo and LiAngelo head overseas to play in Lithuania. The hiring of an agent imperiled Ball’s NCAA eligibility. The two brothers proceeded to sign a contract with Prienai of the Lithuanian Basketball League, a move that was heavily reported by American sports media.

April 2018: The two brothers leave Lithuania after LaVar criticized the team’s head coach Virginijus Seskus for not giving LaMelo enough minutes. LaMelo left the LBL with season averages of 6.5 points and 2.4 assists on 28.6% from the field in 12.8 minutes per game. An interesting quote from Andrew Joseph of USA Today who covered the brothers in Lithuania said of the situation, “Seskus probably thought that Melo, as a 16-year-old kid, wasn’t ready to play against these grown men in the elite league. LaVar got mad, and he didn’t want to listen to anybody, not Coach Seskus. He didn’t want to listen to why he did that. LaVar was fired up just by the fact that LaMelo didn’t start.”

May 2018: After less than one month of being back home in the United States, LaVar Ball’s JBA (Junior Basketball Association) league, which was designed to be an alternative to college basketball, came to fruition. LaMelo became the ‘marquee’ player in LaVar’s newly founded JBA and represented the Los Angeles Ballers. In his debut, Ball scored 40 points and posted 16 rebounds, 15 assists, and three steals while shooting 15-40 from the field in a 135-125 win over the New York Ballers.

June 2018: LaMelo Ball, along with NBA brother Lonzo Ball, released a track called ‘Melo Ball 1 (feat. Kenneth Paige),’ which had over 6,000,000 downloads on Spotify alone. Ball raps about being the “youngest in the game” and the track proceeded to be used as a marketing strategy for the shoe.

August 2018: Over eight regular-season games, LaMelo averaged 39.8 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 11.5 assists per game for the Los Angeles Ballers in the JBA. To go with making the All-Star game, Ball led his team to a championship win over the Seattle Ballers, where he scored a season-high 55 points to go with 16 rebounds and seven assists.

October 2018: At the conclusion of the season, Ball was an addition to the JBA select team, called JBA USA, which faced several European teams on an international tour. Ball averaged 34.7 points per game whilst on tour.

November 2018: Unexpectedly, LaMelo dropped out of the international tour to return to high school in the United States for his senior year. Ball joined prep school SPIRE academy in Ohio to play under coach Jermaine Jackson, who currently serves as LaMelo’s manager. In his SPIRE debut, Ball recorded 20 points, 13 assists, and five rebounds in a 96-85 win over The Hill School. Big Baller Brand profited off of live streams and video highlights of LaMelo’s games. The latter of which often drew crowds in the thousands with many anxious to get a glimpse of the 17-year-old at the time.

January 2019: Despite some stellar play with SPIRE over the recent months and reportedly growing to six-foot-seven, LaMelo Ball was projected to go in the second round at pick 33 in ESPN’s 2020 mock draft. One national scouting analyst even compared him to current Michael Carter-Williams of the Orlando Magic, who is on his sixth team in six seasons and desperately trying to maintain a home in the league.

March 2019: LaMelo Ball finished his year at SPIRE by scoring 41 points, including 29 in the first half in a 102-67 victory over Hillcrest Prep at the Grind Session World Championship. Ball was named MVP of the tournament. Later that month, however, he was ruled ineligible for the 2019 McDonald’s All-American Game due to professional experience.

April 2019: DraftExpress released their latest 2020 NBA mock draft, which had LaMelo remaining as a second-round pick. He was projected to go to the Charlotte Hornets with the 32nd pick. This came despite Ball still finding himself ranked No. 21 in the 247Sports rankings while maintaining his five-star ranking.

June 2019: After finishing his high schooling at SPIRE and not being eligible to attend college, the next step in LaMelo Ball’s career was agreeing to a deal with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia to play in the NBL. Ball joined the NBL through its Next Stars program, which aims to develop NBA Draft prospects from opposing countries. The decision to head to Australia was frowned upon around the league by many, and one disclosed scout told USA Today “the untraditional route (NBL) will almost certainly cost him (LaMelo) once draft night approaches.” Forbes’ Adam Zagoria said that LaMelo Ball might even withdraw from the draft to go to the G-League next season after the rumblings came out that he would be lucky to even go in the second round.

Photo: Rick Rycroft/Associated Press

September 2019: LaMelo found immediate success in the NBL at the NBL Blitz, a preseason tournament. After recording 19 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, and sinking four threes in a preseason win over the Perth Wildcats, LaMelo soared all the way to No. 3 on the ESPN 2020 mock draft. That’s a 30-pick increase in less than nine months from ESPN’s previous mock back in January.

October 2019: When former NBA player Aaron Brooks went down with a season-ending Achilles tear, the Illawarra Hawks simply became the LaMelo Ball show. His field-goal attempts per game rose from single digits to anywhere above 20, and scouts got a larger glimpse of what exactly the 18-year-old phenom is capable of.

November 2019: The month of November was extremely generous to LaMelo Ball. He recorded a season-high 32 points and added 11 rebounds and 10 assists in an overtime victory against the Cairns Taipans, becoming the youngest player in NBL history to record a triple-double. The following game when matched up against R.J. Hampton and the New Zealand Breakers, Ball posted another triple-double with 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists. He became the first player in NBL history to record consecutive triple-doubles. This game against Hampton was the most-watched game in NBL history, and numerous scouts and analysts were in attendance to watch the LaMelo Ball show. His draft stock was rapidly rising, and some big boards ruled him the best player in this upcoming draft. ESPN proceeded to list him as the most talented player in his class despite not even having him in the first round at the beginning of the year.

December 2019: After extremely strong play over the last month, LaMelo Ball suffered a bone bruise in his left foot at the beginning of December. It was announced via his camp that he would miss at least four weeks before being re-evaluated.

January 2020: At the conclusion of the re-evaluation period, LaMelo’s Illawarra Hawks were dead last on the NBL table and had six games left before the season concluded. With no shot at making the playoffs plus another six weeks of rehabilitation, LaMelo opted on parting ways with the Hawks and returning back to the United States to prepare for the draft. Despite early critics, Illawarra of the NBL was not only LaMelo’s most successful stop as a player, but this was most importantly his most successful stop in terms of increasing his draft position.

February 2020: With season numbers of 17.0 points, 6.8 assists, and 7.4 rebounds on splits of 38.9% field goal, 27.9% from three, and 70% from the line, LaMelo was crowned the NBL’s Rookie of the Year. He won the award over Sudanese product Kouat Noi by five votes, with the total count being 49-44.

May 2020: Ranked No. 2 by ESPN, No. 1 by The Athletic, No. 1 by Bleacher Report, and No. 1 here at On Tap Sports Net, LaMelo Ball is projected by many to be the number one overall pick and the most talented prospect in this year’s draft. He has gained the most hype out of anyone in this class and is a player lottery teams are going to focus on heavily in the build-up to the draft in June.

Looking at LaMelo now, he has the largest following for an athlete in the basketball world that isn’t in the NBA with 5.3 million followers on Instagram. Everyone that follows basketball to some extent knows this guy.

One thing to note about Ball after keeping an eye on him over the last few years is his increased maturity levels. The effect he had on Australia in his brief time was huge. He donated a month of his salary to those affected by Australia’s previous bushfire outbreak, which had devastated parts of the country. LaMelo also said the other day that he still plans to purchase the Illawarra Hawks in the short-term future.

His maturity levels off the court have also carried over to his on-court play. LaMelo used to be shooting logo threes inside the first seven seconds of a shot clock just a couple of years ago, now his goal is to make the right play every possession. This is often portrayed with his incredible court awareness and passing vision. He believes every pass he makes is going to result in a bucket. Don’t get his mentality twisted either: LaMelo Ball is extremely confident, not egoistic.

While LaMelo Ball’s draft position is entirely dependent on the draft order, the amount of adversity he has had to overcome and is still overcoming is pretty amazing. From being known as the little kid with the curly blonde streaks that played on his older brother’s team to now being known as one of the most exciting players to enter the league in a long time, it’s pretty fascinating to look at what LaMelo has become over recent years.

The next challenge for LaMelo Ball is living up to the superstar hype and exceeding the labels he’s had on him his entire life. Can he live up to the spotlight his father put on him from such a young age?


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NBA Writer based in New Zealand.

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