By: Donnie Menke ~Staff Writer~
UCLA men’s basketball has undergone a dramatic transformation this season, moving from 15-17 last season to 31-4 and a Sweet 16 appearance (and possibly more) this season.
At the center of this transformation is freshman sensation Lonzo Ball, a 6’6,” pass-first point guard who leads the nation in assists at 7.6 a game. Ball is widely considered to be a lock to go in the top two in the NBA Draft in June, as he is projected behind only Washington point guard Markelle Fultz.
One of the main concerns about Ball has nothing to do with his game but rather with his family. Lonzo’s father, LaVar, has made numerous headlines since the beginning of the season for his outlandish and sometimes outrageous statements. From stating that Lonzo is better than Warriors point guard (and twotime reigning MVP) Steph Curry to saying LaVar himself could beat NBA legend Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one, LaVar has also been in the media for saying all of his sons will be “one and done lottery picks.”
While many have criticized LaVar’s statements, there are many executives around the NBA who do not feel LaVar is a good enough reason to pass on Lonzo in June’s NBA Draft. One executive is quoted as saying “Passing on the kid because of the father may not hold up well over time.”
The transformation at UCLA could be sustained for the next few years, as Lonzo’s younger brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo, are both highly touted prospects who have committed to UCLA. LiAngelo, a senior, is a scoring machine for Chino Hills High School in California, averaging 33.8 points per game, according to MaxPreps.com. LaMelo, a sophomore, has received national recognition for scoring 92 points in a game earlier this season.
While I do not believe LaVar will have lasting negative impacts on his sons, it doesn’t mean there will be no distractions.
LaVar’s constant comparison of his sons to NBA stars can bring a lot of added, and unnecessary, pressure to Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo. While it does not seem to have affected Lonzo, as he has posted very strong numbers in big games this season, how it effects LiAngelo and LaMelo in the college ranks remains to be seen.
The incredibly high amount of publicity can cause off-thecourt pressure as well because of the reality show-type media attention LaVar is bringing the Ball family. The family could feel added pressure to not mess up in their personal lives because of this.
The extra attention for LiAngelo and LaMelo also specifically opens them up to enormous amounts of scrutiny, as each of Chino Hills’ basketball games have received a lot of publicity, with added attention due to the Ball brothers being on the team.
The increased publicity also puts the Ball family at risk, as their home was burglarized during a Chino Hills playoff game on March 15.
Despite all of these problems, each of the brothers are so talented that LaVar’s publicity stunts may not make a difference. As stated previously, scouts feel Lonzo is too talented to worry about what his father does off the court and, while LiAngelo is not projected to be drafted as high as Lonzo or LaMelo, I have a hard time imagining teams will feel differently about LaVar when it comes to either of Lonzo’s younger brothers.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas recently came out in favor of LaVar Ball, saying “Lonzo Ball, his son, handles everything without changing expression. … We’ve seen this before with Richard Williams, Earl Woods and the Manning family years and years ago, prodigies as kids. What makes this different is it’s unabashed in the money making side of it.”
With regard to the moneymaking side, LaVar has started his own apparel company called “Big Baller Brand” that was relatively unknown to the public before his statements moved the entire family into the spotlight.
The added publicity could also reap benefits for the Ball brothers, as big shoe companies like Nike and Under Armour are always looking for marketable players. If the brothers prove they are able to stay out of trouble with the public eye on them, they will have a much better shot at landing sizable deals.
LaVar Ball, while controversial, does not seem to be hurting his sons’ brands much, if at all. Sure, there may be added pressure and enormous amounts of public viewing and scrutiny, but as long as it does not have any negative impacts on his sons or their careers, how much harm is he really causing?