Video: Chino Hills basketball ready for state championship
At 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, LaVar Ball is larger than -- well -- fill in the blank: A house. Life. J.J. Watt.
His playing weight is 270, and as the owner of his own personal training business — Big Ballers Training — "I'll get there," he said.
Where he is now is in the middle of a father's dream. His three sons — senior Lonzo, junior LiAngelo and freshman LaMelo — are the prime time players for the nation's consensus No. 1 high school basketball team,
Chino Hills (Calif.)
, a 6-6 point guard, averages nearly a triple-double and has already been selected Naismith National Player of the Year. LiAngelo
, also 6-6, averages better than 27 points per game and LaMelo
, a 5-10 guard, more than 16 per game for a team that has tied the state record with 18 games scoring triple-digits.
Lonzo has signed to UCLA and his brothers are already committed. The boys are all on schedule, says LaVar, but of course they're not there yet.
"I tell my boys all the time, someone has to be better than Jordan. Why not you?" LaVar said. "You got everything. Everything. We give them everything because of the work they put in. They don't take off holidays. No Christmas. Nothing."
The Ball brothers have been the hottest ticket and most talked about trio in the country, and Saturday they'll finish up their prep careers together at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, to take on De La Salle (Concord) for the CIF State Open Division title. A victory would assure that Chino Hills and the Ball kids finish on top of the heap, just as their dad predicted boldly in December.
"There's not a high school team that can beat us," LaVar said at the MaxPreps Holiday Classic. "How do you prepare for it? They're too unselfish. … People think I'm bragging, no. You can't beat us. If your car goes 100 miles an hour and mine goes 170, how you going to beat me unless you change the engine?"
LaVar began this design as soon as Lonzo could pick up a ball. When the youngest – LaMelo – turned four, he threw them all on the court and said "go." He coached the trio, always playing against far older kids, until the boys reached high school, before turning over the keys to Chino Hills coach Steve Baik. They could have gone the private school rout but decided to keep the boys close to home at a school hardly associated with basketball. He wasn't worried about lack of exposure.
"My attitude was, 'my boys are going to make their own name,' " he said. "If they can find some kids in Africa then you can find my boys in Chino Hills off the 71 freeway. It ain't that far."
Indeed scouts, fans and media alike have flocked to Chino Hills to watch the Ball brothers act and always sitting very near the court is the bigger-than-J.J. Watt figure, with his 6-fooot-1 wife of 20 years, Tina, bellowing at the boys nonstop. His voice is unmistakable.
"Bang-bang," is his signature phrase. But, of course, he has many more. He's loud, brash, confident, friendly, gregarious and almost always positive. He's the architect of this no-shot-is-a-bad-shot game plan, the co-producer of this frenetic Ball brother show.
And he's clearly proud of it.
Not many questions were needed for this 50-minute interview, but we hit on such topics of burnout, the AAU circuit, UCLA and Steve Alford, shooting, trophies, parenting and comparisons to NBA greats such as Jason Kidd.
How far back does the Ball brothers' show go back. Do you have siblings? LaVar Ball:
I have four other brothers: LaFrance, LaValle, LaRenzo and LaShon. There's five of us all together. We played the same way as my boys do now.
MS: Where did you attend high school?
LB: I went to Canoga Park which is out in the Valley. They didn't play this style, but where I'm from — L.A. South Central — the style of play was like Crenshaw High, Dorsey, Manuel Arts.
MS: When did you graduate and what's your athletic background?
LB: In 1985. I played basketball and football. Back in my day everyone played three sports. Nowadays everyone does one sport. And they do it all year long because they have AAU ball, summer ball. You can't do three or four sports like you used to.
When I went to college, I played nothing but basketball. I played at Washington State and Cal State Los Angeles. After I played at Cal State, I played football a couple of years with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers. I was a speed demon. I was fast and could jump. I wasn't chunky at all. When I played basketball, I was 6-6, 270. Everyone looks at my size and don't believe I played basketball all throughout college. That's why my boys are so good. Because they look at them to play football. Lonzo throws like a quarterback. LiAngelo catches like a tight end. I always told my boys, 'No use doing both. You can only get scholarship for one.'
MS: Did the boys ever play football?
LB: I put them into a flag football when they were 7 and 8 and Melo was 5. Indoors. Gave them three plays. They were audiblizing [sic] left and right. Everyone thought we were cheating. Lonzo was throwing touchdown passes left and right. Angelo and Melo catching TD passes left and right. People said they'd never seen anything like it. But they got so good at basketball and have such a passion for it, we just did that.
MS: So take us through their basketball progression.
LB: They always played six and seven years up. When they were in kindergarten and Melo was like four years old, we were playing fourth and fifth-grade teams. Then when Lonzo got to the eighth grade, we were playing eighth- and ninth-grade teams. When you get to high school and you're 14, that senior is going to be 18. That's a four-year gap. So when Lonzo got to high school, varsity coach didn't even know he's been playing varsity ball since he was 12. Same with Melo. People said, ‘Oh my God. He's been playing 17U since he was 11.' He's 14 now. That's three years. This high school does not phase him at all. In AAU ball, they have guys 6-11 and 6-9 who already have scholarships. So high school ball is just fun. So easy.
MS: So you've coached them all the way through? You didn't do the regular AAU circuit? Why?
LB: When you step outside of that box – a lot of people are like, ‘I don't know why you're doing that.' But I know why I'm doing that. Just like all my boys are committed to UCLA at an early age. When you commit early, they start building the team around you. If you wait until your senior year, now they bring you around with five guys. My boys committed so early that now coaches are saying if we're going to have a running team at UCLA let's get some people who can run. So if you're 7-feet and 290, they're not going to recruit you. If your 6-9 and 220, that's who we want.
MS: So you think the boys will play this same style at UCLA?
LB: I've been talking to Steve Alford since Lonzo was a freshman. All you need is one guy to believe in your style. When Lonzo goes to UCLA they know what they're getting. He told me the first time we took an unofficial visit, I want all three of your sons.
MS: What's your relationship with coach Baik?
BG: Here's the thing I told him when we came here. He's one of those coaches who says there's eight possessions each quarter. I told him when my boy comes here, that's going to change. That's what I told him. I said ‘you know what? I live around the corner from the school. I said it's not the school that makes the dude, it's the dude that makes the school. I'm going to give you four freshmen who can start four years in a row. They're not going nowhere. People say, ‘Oh go to Mater Dei. Go to Etiwanda.' I said no. I want to get four state championships but I guarantee one.
MS: That's a big guarantee.
LB: I said, ‘When you talk about Chino Hills, people are gonna say, you mean the Ball brothers?' I told them my sons' names are bigger than the school and they're going to make them bigger than the school, trust me. When all was said and done, people looking at me, saying ‘he's just talking.' I said, 'Lonzo can't change this team by himself. When my other son comes, we can change it. And when my third one gets here, there's nothing you can do about it.'
MS: So this hasn't surprised you? Being undefeated? Number one in the nation?
LB: No, no, we're not going to lose a game. There's not a high school team that can beat us. How do you prepare for it? They're too unselfish. You can play with a guy for four years, from your freshman to your senior year. My boys have played together all their life. How you going to beat them? That's why Melo can throw the ball behind his head and know one of his brothers is going to catch it.
MS: And coach Baik is good with that?
LB: The great thing about coach Baik is that he's cool with change. The proof is in the pudding. They are so instinctive. It's hard to do with one guy, hard with two. But when you have three guys and two others who like to play that style, and the coach is behind it 100 percent, then you just unleash them.
A lot of coaches are set in their ways when they're older. It's always about his program. His set up. This coach is like, ‘man I have players that I've never had before. So I'm going to take everything I've learned throughout the years out the window and just let these kids play.'
MS: They definitely are instinctive.
LB: Here's the thing. They have such a passion for it. Anything you have a passion for you're not going to get tired of doing. They're 4.0 grade-point students and they love the game of basketball. I handle discipline and athletics. My wife handles all the book work.
MS: How does Tina handle your confidence? Does she ever nudge you to not be so bold?
LB: Hell no. She knows how I am. We've been married almost 20 years now. We're perfect. What I mean by that is, I wouldn't say this unless they put in so much time and work. We know what they're all about. Having Melo play since he was 4 and playing with guys 12 and 13 years old, a regular mom might not be good with it. But she's good with it.
MS: How did you meet?
LB: She played basketball at Cal State LA. I transferred from Washington State and saw her in the hall. Wow. She knocked me off my feet. I stopped her in the hall and said: ‘I don't know what we're going to do together, but we're gonna do something.' She was like, ‘is this guy cocky or what?'
MS: So it's all worked out?
LB: Her and I can stay in a gym all day and we're fine. She loves being a P.E. teacher. I'm a personal trainer and have my own business. Our last name is Ball. Tell me it's not all lined up.
MS: Ever worry you might rub people the wrong way?
LB: I'm loud but I'm going to come up to everyone and be friendly. I don't hold no grudges with anyone. People say a lot of things about me and I really don't care. Good or bad. Nothing is going to stop me from doing what I do with my boys. The gyms are always going to be packed when my boys play because 50 percent of them like us and the other 50 percent hope they beat our (butt). That's fine with me, because you're not going to please everybody. I'm good with that. As long as my boys work hard, are cordial and polite with people, I'm fine with that.
MS: Ever worry about burning the kids out?
LB: You only get burned out if it's not a passion. My boys aren't playing to make the money at basketball. They just want to be the best players anywhere, where people say ‘Oh my gosh, have you seen them?' They treat it like entertainment. … They're thinking we're going go out and score 100-and-something. See if you can catch us. They're just having a fun time. That's why I've always taught them to play until the clock says zero. We're going to press you and we're going to shoot the last shot every time we play and it has nothing to rub the score in. It's just how we play.
MS: It's definitely the new brand of basketball.
LB: I've been coaching them all their lives. I've instilled something in them that you can't take out. Like, 'no shot is a bad shot.' I've never told them, ‘no don't shoot that, get closer.'
MS: When was the first time all three of them were on the court together?
LB: Melo was 4, Angelo 6 and Lonzo 7. I have tapes of all the game. But we don't keep any trophies.
MS: No trophies? Why not? Wouldn't be enough room in the house?
LB: No. It was more like, ‘it's good that you won, but it should be normal to you all.' Lonzo doesn't care about trophies. He won City of Palms MVP but forgot the trophy at the airport. Not on purpose, he just forgot. It's not what he plays for. He doesn't cherish it.
MS: How about rankings? Rankings of players?
LB: I don't care where they are ranked. Eventually they got to look and say, ‘how are they doing this?' You guys rank (Lonzo) 9, 12, 20. I rank him No. 1. Besides his mom and me, the only one I care where he ranks him is Steve Alford.
MS: You think Alford will try to change their shooting form? All are effective, but unorthodox.
LB: I tried to get them shoot from the top of their head. We never started from the stomach. They were playing against older kids they didn't have time.
MS: What do you think about the comparisons between Lonzo and Jason Kidd?
LB: Lonzo is taller, more athletic and he shoots better. The thing is he's strong, he passes, he's like Kidd. I get it. Don't you think he plays more like Penny Hardaway than Jason Kidd? And same body type.
MS: Anyone else you think he plays like?
LB: I said he's Magic with a jumper. Everyone said, that's taking it a little far. No. Look at him. He throws those long passes like Magic. He's a better shooter than Magic. More athletic. But here's what I like about Magic. He made everyone around him better. That's what my son does. He makes everyone want to run. Lonzo's best attribute is winning.
MS: You've definitely done that.
LB: Chino Hills was nothing before he got there. Before he got there they were 17-12. On their way down. It is what it is. When you take a school from nothing to be ranked No. 1 in the country, you did some damage.