The coronavirus pandemic led to the NBA suspending play in early March, and it’s not clear when—or if—the league will return. A world without basketball is a world that’s less bright.
Nonetheless, there will be a 2020 NBA Draft at some point. Maybe it’ll happen virtually…maybe it’ll happen later in the year...but it will happen! That means we can fill this sad void by digging deep into top draft prospects, getting acquainted with the players who will soon compete with the best in the Association. The biggest name in this year’s draft is also arguably the best player in the draft—LaMelo Ball.
Here is everything you need to know about the 6’7” guard from Chino Hills, California.
Let’s Start With the Last Name
Of course, any article about Ball has to mention his family ties. His father, LaVar, is one of the most outspoken parents in sports history and a media darling. You never know what will come out of his mouth.
Any team that gets LaMelo gets the whole Ball family...which is something you know GMs will be keeping in mind on draft day.
He Has Athletic Heritage
It’s easy to hear the last name and immediately think of LaVar’s bombastic personality, but don’t forget that Melo comes from an incredibly athletic family. Both of his parents played college ball, and LaVar also played in the World League of American Football.
In addition, Melo’s oldest brother, Lonzo, is a guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. Lonzo was the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft after spending one season at UCLA, then he spent two seasons with the Lakers before he was packaged in the Anthony Davis deal. Older brother LiAngelo was briefly on the UCLA roster and currently plays in the G League.
He’s Been on the Radar for a Long Time
Given the rise of Lonzo (and LaVar), people have known about Melo for much longer than most prospects. His family gained celebrity status when he was a freshman in high school, and he’s been heavily involved in—among other things—the Facebook Watch reality show Ball in the Family since its launch in August 2017.
He’s capitalized on that platform by building a massive social media following, with 5.2 million followers on Instagram. He’s also had some unique opportunities.
He Appeared on WWE 'Raw'
Melo has to be the only top NBA draft prospect to have appeared on WWE Raw during his high school career, right?
In June 2017—at the height of the LaVar Ball Mania—LaMelo appeared with his dad on an episode of the popular wrestling program. The youngest Ball spurred the WWE to apologize for “inappropriate language” because during the program he implored his father to “Beat that n---a ass!”
The Family Ran Things at Chino Hills
As a freshman, Melo played with both of his brothers. They won a state title with the Ball Boys firing away. Lonzo and LiAngelo both played out their eligibility at Chino Hills.
Before Melo’s junior campaign, though, LaVar got into a mix-up with the coach (shocking!), which led Melo to go abroad for the first time.
He’s Bounced Around the Globe
LaMelo has had an...interesting...high school career. A random late-night Twitter DM led him to Lithuania to play for Prienai. Then, after a crazy fallout with that team, he played one season in the Junior Basketball Association, a league created by his father.
After the JBA fell apart, Melo joined the SPIRE Institute in Ohio. Getting dizzy from trying to keep track of this guy’s moves yet?
He was a five-star college recruit and originally committed to play ball for UCLA, like his brothers, but it wasn't clear whether he'd be eligible to play in the college ranks, so he decided against playing college basketball. He went from SPIRE to another pro league, this time taking the long flight to Australia.
He Played Well in Australia
LaMelo signed a two-year contract in June 2019 with the Illawarra Hawks of the Australian National Basketball League. He ended up there through the NBL Next Stars program, designed to assist top NBA prospects playing in other countries. He moved there with his coach from SPIRE, Jermaine Jackson, who became his manager.
Melo played well during his lone season in Australia. His campaign ended early due to a bruised foot, and he decided to leave the team in January to prepare for the upcoming NBA draft. While in the NBL, though, he averaged an impressive line of 17 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 6.8 APG and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. It was in Australia that his top-pick hype really picked up steam.
He (Reportedly) Owns His NBL Team
In the lead-up to the draft, Melo has actually purchased the Hawks, according to his manager. The financial terms were not disclosed.
“Melo loves the Illawarra fans,” Jackson told ESPN. “He loves that community. They opened their arms to him. They made us feel like we are at home. When we started hearing about the issues they were going through, we talked about it and decided, ‘Let's own the team.’”
While the league itself did not confirm that Ball officially purchased the club, Jackson made it clear, however, that Melo won’t be playing in the NBL himself—he’s committed to hooping in the NBA.
Reacting to the announcement, Lonzo perfectly summed it up.