LaMelo Ball might have returned to high school basketball, but some of the game’s top teams are not exactly excited to have him back.
Three days after the youngest Ball brother announced he’d enroll at SPIRE Academy in Geneva, Ohio, for the coming season, some teams, including two national powerhouses, are dropping the school from their schedules amid questions of Ball’s amateur status. Ball, of course, played professionally in Lithuania for club BC Vytautas and in his father LaVar’s fledgling Junior Basketball Association developmental league.
La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind., and Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. — schools that between the two of them count Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Jaren Jackson Jr., as alumni — both announced Saturday they would not play SPIRE.
La Lumiere said in a statement it has never played against a team “whose roster included any players who have played at the professional level.”
“With the recent news that someone who has played professionally intends to play for SPIRE Academy,” the statement continued, “we are not comfortable moving forward with our game.” La Lumiere was scheduled to play SPIRE on Tuesday. A message on the school’s voice mail confirmed the cancellation.
Oak Hill Coach Steve Smith said representatives from the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association, the governing body for private school athletics in the state, told him his players' eligibility could be in question if his team played SPIRE with Ball on the floor.
Smith said in a phone interview he called SPIRE representatives Friday to tell them they’d have to scrap the game, which was set for Dec. 3.
“I just told them, 'We can’t jeopardize our school and our association and our affiliation with conferences,” Smith said. “They understood. I said we can play them if [Ball] doesn’t play, but they weren’t willing to do that.”
SPIRE representatives did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
In a phone interview this week, Justin Brantley, SPIRE’s associate academy director, said Ball had not been compensated in Lithuania or in the JBA, preserving his high school eligibility. SPIRE is not affiliated with a league or national governing body and instead plays an independent schedule.
But even if Ball was not compensated, his participation in any professional league breaks his amateur status in many states, though high school amateurism rules are a patchwork among state associations.
In Ohio, for example, a player loses amateur status after “signing a contract or making a commitment of any kind to play professional athletics, regardless of its legal enforceability or any payment received,” according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s bylaws. Virginia’s rules are similar.
“You can’t have a player on your team that signed a pro contract. It doesn’t matter if he got paid or not,” Smith said.
But some teams, including national powers IMG Academy and Prolific Prep, might not care as much about Ball’s amateur standing or other players' academic standing. Both travel nationally for games and Prolific Prep is unaffiliated with a governing body. IMG is a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association. The bulk of their schedules are composed of tournaments in which the rules may not be as strict as state high school associations. SPIRE is set to play in six such tournaments this season.
Smith said those kind of teams, who experience the same kind of scheduling difficulties as SPIRE, might seek out Ball’s new team to schedule a game.
“I’m sure they’ll lose games and I’m sure they’ll pick up games,” Smith said. “That’s just the way it’s going to go when you have a guy like him on your team."
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