When LiAngelo Ball withdrew from UCLA last week, reports emerged that his father, LaVar, wanted both the 19-year-old and his 16-year-old brother, LaMelo, who was pulled out of high school in October, to play professionally in Europe. That appears set to happen early next year, as the two teenagers have signed one-year contracts with a club in the Lithuanian League.
The club, Vytautas Prienai, also plays in the Baltic League, which features a lower level of competition that could be key to both the Balls getting appreciable playing time. LiAngelo, who barely played for UCLA before getting suspended, along with two teammates, after a shoplifting incident in China, was not expected to make much of an impact for the Bruins, while LaMelo is viewed as a far better prospect but obviously has further to go in his overall development.
It is not uncommon for younger teenagers such as LaMelo Ball to sign with professional basketball or soccer organizations in Europe, but for his family, the task was finding a club that would want to take on the challenge of finding playing time for both brothers while dealing with the inevitable antics of their outspoken father. At the highest levels in Europe, basketball is highly competitive and coaches are vying for wins and job security, but Vytautas, which is based in a town of about 10,000 people, is reportedly struggling to attract fans and could use the publicity the Balls likely will bring.
“We engaged in serious talks with several teams, and Vytautas made the most sense as LaMelo and LiAngelo work to develop as professionals and set a foundation for their careers,” the Balls’ U.S.-based agent, Harrison Gaines, told Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports. “It was critical to find a situation in a competitive league that works with both of their short- and long-term goals.”
LaVar Ball has said that his ultimate goal is to see LiAngelo and LaMelo play in the NBA, specifically on the Lakers with their older brother Lonzo, who Los Angeles selected out of UCLA with the No. 2 pick in June’s draft. “I’m going to make him way better for the [NBA] draft than UCLA ever could have,” Ball said of LiAngelo last week.
In the meantime, at least for the first half of next year, the Ball brothers will undoubtedly experience some culture shock, particularly as the coach of Vytautas reportedly does not speak English. The club has rarely had Americans on its roster, let alone Los Angeles-based sports-world celebrities whose father has recently been immersed in a feud with President Trump.
If the scenario sounds like a promising setup for a reality-TV show, that has likely occurred to the Balls, as well, who are currently starring in “Ball in the Family.” The show, which streams on Facebook, might need a shot in the arm, to judge from the drop in views from Episode 1 (7.6 million) to Episode 2 (1.1 million).
The brothers could also face a tough adjustment on the court, not only in terms of squaring off with notably older, bigger and more experienced players but in a system that presumably will demand more discipline and teamwork than they may be used to. LaVar Ball has said that he trained his sons to play a high-tempo, freewheeling brand of basketball, and he clashed repeatedly with his sons’ high school coaches.
The 6-foot-3 LaMelo, who once scored 92 points in a high school game, has been dinged by scouts for paying little attention to defense while displaying questionable shot selection. LiAngelo, 6-5 and of stockier build, does not have the offensive gifts of either of his brothers and likely will need to dramatically improve his shooting to get on NBA teams’ radars.
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