UCLA basketball moving on past Ball family era
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Ball family was one and done at UCLA. However, the ramifications of doing business with Lonzo, LiAngelo, LaMelo and father LaVar could have a lasting impact on the program.
LiAngelo Ball — the younger brother of Lakers rookie guard Lonzo Ball — was pulled out of school by LaVar months after the shoplifting scandal in China and signed with the professional team Vytautas Prienai in Lithuania. LaMelo Ball, the youngest of the three brothers still in high school, signed with the same team thus giving up his eligibility to play in college.
LaMelo had committed to play for UCLA as did his two older brothers. Lonzo is the only one who played in a UCLA uniform and he was an All-America as a freshman.
“Well, I really had one,” coach Steve Alford said of the Ball era. “Lonzo, obviously, was terrific. The time I coached Lonzo was incredible. Very respectful young man. Somebody that didn’t miss class. On court, off court was incredible. Became a good leader by the time it was over with. Knew what you’d get out of him. Made people better. Knew he was one-and-done the day he stepped on campus and never acted that way. You didn’t see entitlement that sometimes you see in kids like that. He was a complete joy to coach.”
No one knew the Ball family impact in Pauley would be so short-lived. LiAngelo Ball worked out with his teammates in the summer and for five weeks of practice but never played in a game because of the indefinite suspension over the shoplifting that caused an international incident that went all the way to President Trump.
LaVar pulled him out of UCLA recently because he wanted him to play basketball. LiAngelo and his teammates — Jalen Hill and Cody Riley — were all serving indefinite suspensions. Alford believes that could be resolved soon, whether Hill and Riley could rejoin the team this season or not.
“It’s not done, but we’ve heard the process is nearing an end,” Alford said Thursday. “My hope is we’ll hear something if not the end of this week by early next week.”
The UCLA Office of Student Conduct has done the review and deciphering that code will determine the players’ fates. Alford said he wasn’t involved in the interview process as part of that review and didn’t have input on what decision is made. Once the decision is relayed, he’ll have input in how things are handled moving forward.
“It’s just one more of those distractions we get behind us,” Alford said. “The guys in the locker room have had nothing to do with any of it ... This young team has had to deal with a lot and yet they’re 7-2 and playing well.”
Because of NCAA recruiting rules, Alford wasn’t able to talk about LaMelo Ball and the fact he no longer will play for the Bruins.
“It’s just the way it is,” Alford said. “It’s something that happened. It’s the 2019-2020 class. There’s all kinds of time. Right now, all of our attention is finishing the ’18 class. ... Even trying to project what the 2019 class is going to look like is hard for a lot of reasons. One, the one-and-done. And two, on the table and looks like something is going to pass relatively soon, eliminate one-and-dones. ... The 2019 class is two years out from playing here, so that gives us plenty of time.”
LiAngelo wasn’t at UCLA long enough to have an impact or even show up in career statistics.
“When Gelo was here, he was terrific,” Alford said. “Through the summer, through his academics and through coaching him on the court. He was tremendous. He was late one time, and he came in in frantic, apologizing and took his responsibility of it. Those are things you appreciate as a coach. I have no issues that way. Obviously, with Gelo and Melo, just wishing them the very best of luck. I hope things really work out well for them. Just like Lonzo, I hope they have terrific careers.”
Asked what he knew about the Baltic League, Alford said: “I have no idea about the Baltic League or where that city is or anything about it.”
GG Goloman of the Bruins, who is from Hungary and played on its national team over the summer, knows a thing or two about professional basketball overseas.
“It’s a little bit similar,” Goloman said of Hungary. “It’s a good league. I’m not sure about the team they went to. They should be OK. I’m not sure what the team is like, though.”
Hill and Riley are already finished with their finals, but some UCLA players won’t be done until Friday. The Bruins host No. 25 Cincinnati on Saturday in a nationally televised game. They could have more depth by the time Pac-12 Conference play starts in January. Or they could continue with a short bench.
“It would be nice to know,” Goloman said. “The past couple of months have been up in the air. We don’t really know what’s going on. It will definitely be nice to know when they’ll be back.”
But what’s known is none of the Ball brothers will be back.