As the winter days went by in Lithuania, LiAngelo Ball had developed a most unlikely role for the Vytautas Prienu team he signed with in December. He became a productive player in his first professional season, and emerged as a leader and forged a camaraderie with his teammates within weeks of joining the first-division Lithuanian club. His involvement in a scandal in China with two other UCLA basketball players led to his departure from the college game, yet it opened a pathway to reshape himself.
“I’m huge on being a true team player,” Ball told Yahoo Sports. “I feel if you bond good with the people you play with, you will be successful. I made it a point to get to know my teammates in Lithuania, and to try to win together. It helped me on the court. The whole year was different, but I adapted quickly because I had the mindset that people aren’t going to wait for you. It’s serious. They’re not going to wait all day for you to click with teammates; they’re going to somebody who can adapt quicker.
“I definitely learned from it. I also learned from the experience in China and I felt bad, but it’s over now. I view it as a closed chapter in my life. It’s about looking forward now to the NBA draft, and hopefully on an NBA team.”
Now, Ball is participting in the Professional Basketball Combine this week in Florida, a secondary predraft event held after the NBA’s combine in Chicago. Ball — the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball and older brother of LaMelo Ball — will work out for the Lakers on Tuesday and has visits planned with the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, league sources said.
NBA team officials haven’t viewed LiAngelo Ball as a sure-fire draft selection, although his season in Lithuania provided some substance to his abilities. The 19-year-old was productive in Lithuania, elevated his basketball fitness and has a personality suited for a pro career. Ball averaged 12.6 points and 2.9 rebounds, and shot 41.5 percent from 3-point range on 5.8 attempts per game with Vytautas Prienu. At 6-foot-5, Ball has the size and strength to defend. He weighed 214 pounds at the Pro Basketball Combine a year after finishing his Chino Hills (Calif.) High School career at 240 pounds and being listed at 230 at UCLA, he says.
LiAngelo Ball worked out for "about 20 teams" at the @ProBBallCombine.
Is 'Gelo worthy of an NBA draft selection?
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) May 23, 2018
“I’ve been training since I was little, and I’ve seen how Zo has got it done preparing himself,” Ball told Yahoo Sports. “So I felt if we did the same things, I should get there the same way. I’ve always wanted to play professionally, and I take it seriously. I don’t base how I play based off people hating or doubting. I try to show what I can do. Going in, I know I can produce. I train for this sport, so I knew I wanted to produce and be one of the highest scorers on the team this year, and that’s what happened.
“I know how much I have to work to get to where I want to be. I just let people talk. People don’t really have an effect on me, because anybody can say anything. It doesn’t affect my preparation. I just want to stay focused and grinding.”
Vytautas players and team officials made it clear how much they valued Ball’s team-first ethic, although LiAngelo and LaMelo left the team with a couple of games remaining in the season.
“Gelo set a good relationship with teammates and the staff, always willing to help,” Vytautas said in a statement. “Gelo has potential, and he improved a lot, comparing his first game and last game with us and showed he can defend and shoot. The relationship with the club and the Ball family is still great and warm.”
LiAngelo Ball says he has noticed first-hand how top collegiate talent is developed and believes the move to Lithuania was more beneficial than attending UCLA.
“I gained a lot of experience playing, because there aren’t outside things going on,” Ball told Yahoo Sports. “It’s strictly basketball. We have practice twice a day, I’d work out after practices, and then we get ready to play games. Going up against grown men who really care about their livelihoods … if they’re not producing, they can get fired. It’s serious.
“In college, if you’re the man on the team, you may not show up on time or show up with the team sometimes. You know nothing is going to happen to you. They’re not going to cut you. Overseas, whether it’s in practice or a game, you can’t come in slacking. I learned that over there, and I’m going to bring that back to the states.”
There are expectations around LiAngelo Ball, but within him there is a calming confidence. He wants to accept responsibilities, and he has aspirations, but he’s certain of his mission.
“I’m going to be a pro whether I get picked or not,” Ball told Yahoo Sports. “Whichever team that I end up on, I’m going to give it my all and go up from there. I want to show any team that can pick me up: I can produce.
“I can be a scorer, a shooter, and I can also play defense. I’ll play my hardest for anybody.”
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