LaVar Ball frequently feuded with his sons’ high school coaches, and Lonzo Ball’s Lakers career had barely begun before his father began questioning Luke Walton and his staff. Thus it was no surprise, after Ball took his two younger sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, to play professionally for a small club in Lithuania, that he set about disagreeing with that team’s coach.
Given the way Ball pulled LiAngelo out of UCLA early in his freshman season — of course, a suspension for that incident of alleged shoplifting in China had something to do with it — and took LaMelo out of his high school with two years ago, Wednesday’s news wasn’t exactly a shock, either.
The Ball family is reportedly leaving Lithuania, even though their struggling team, Vytautas Prienai, has yet to complete its season. And, yes, the outspoken father blamed the early departure on the coach.
That’s according to Donatas Urbonas, a Lithuania basketball journalist who has provided invaluable updates on the Balls’ (mis)adventures overseas, which began in January. He quoted LaVar Ball on Wednesday as saying, “We’re not going to waste our time no more,” and pointing to an injury for LiAngelo and not enough playing time for LaMelo.
Never mind that LaMelo is still just 16, playing in a league that isn’t Europe’s best but does feature plenty of talented players, all of whom are more experienced and most of whom are much bigger. In just eight appearances for 8-24 Vytautas (per RealGM.com), he averaged 6.5 points on .268 shooting, adding 1.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 12.8 minutes.
Nineteen-year-old LiAngelo appeared in 14 games (per RealGM.com), averaging 12.6 points on .425 shooting, with 2.9 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 21.7 minutes. He and his brother got much more playing time in the five-game Big Baller Challenge, a series of exhibition games against lesser competition that not only served as a showcase for the siblings but afforded Ball a chance to act as a head coach.
Ball said the plan for his middle son was to let him get some rest and recovery before preparing for the NBA draft combine and pre-draft camps, although most draft analysts consider LiAngelo extremely unlikely to be selected.
Even Ball has indicated in the past that he considers LiAngelo his least talented son, in terms of basketball, while LaMelo was widely regarded as a top high school prospect. However, the coach of Vytautas, Virginijus Seskus, noted that while “Melo is still young” and had some “good experience because he was so bold,” the playmaking guard “also has to understand that you have to play defense a bit.”
Seskus offered some kind words for LaMelo’s older brother, saying, “Gelo is a good guy, he helped us a lot.” But the coach was clearly irked by Ball’s decision to pull his family out of Lithuania before the season ended, telling Urbonas, “It’s just another proof they came here to make a show, not for basketball. It’s sad they didn’t understand what we gave them.”
Seskus was referring to the Balls’ reality show, “Ball in the Family,” which streams on Facebook. In the most recent episode, Ball told the camera that with just two months left in the season, “Time is ticking, and everybody’s got to be in. We can’t have 70-30, 60-40 — when everybody’s in 100 percent, it will be a change for the better.”
Ball did not rule out bringing LaMelo back to Lithuania, saying, “We’ll see. He is still so young,” but he ruled out any chance of a return to Vytautas. “You really ask me this?” Ball said. “Coach ruined everything and he’ll have to pay the price that Melo is not coming back.”
There will also be a price paid by the small Lithuanian town that hosted the family for four months and received, in exchange, a jolt of unusual attention. Ball said that he had a positive experience in Lithuania, with one, all-too-common exception: “I just didn’t get along with the coach.”
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