LaVar Ball’s latest comments, blaming slow white guys for UCLA’s tourney loss to Kentucky, represented a veiled shot at Steve Alford. While Alford certainly does not have an unblemished history, he’s got to be asking himself every day, if not every hour, whether one season of LaMelo Ball chucking shots a few years down the road is worth all the nonsense he’ll have to deal with from LaVar from now through then.
The middle Ball brother, LiAngelo, is slated to enter UCLA this upcoming season. According to Rivals, UCLA has five recruits coming in who are ranked higher than he is. Ball, a three-star recruit, is not ranked in the Rivals top 100. There is a very real possibility that his talent would not merit a starting role on next year’s Bruins team.
Will LaVar Ball, who reportedly spent the year undermining his sons’ high school coach, be able to accept that his middle son is in a reserve spot, and refrain from crushing Steve Alford at every step? LOL. Sure.
He’s already said that all of his sons are one-and-done players. Right after the UCLA loss to Kentucky, LaVar had this to say about LiAngelo (commonly referred to as Gelo) going to UCLA next year, to Jeff Goodman of ESPN:
“He’s chasing Lonzo and has the same mindset,” LaVar Ball said of LiAngelo. “He’s a different type of player. He’s 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, and is a scorer. He might average 20 next year, maybe even close to 30 a game. He’s been a scorer all his life. He’s led Chino Hills in scoring all four years. UCLA is losing all their scorers — Lonzo, TJ [Leaf] and [Isaac] Hamilton. Nobody who’s coming in is a better scorer than Gelo.”
In truth, Gelo is more likely to see reduced playing time as a freshman, and transfer out of the program after a year, than to jump to an NBA team. He’s a lot closer to a four-year college player who may eventually get an opportunity overseas if he develops, than he is to following Lonzo’s path. But Dad thinking he could score over 20 points a game as a freshman–when three players in power conferences (Markelle Fultz, Sindarius Thornwell, and Frank Mason) did that all last year–shows the level of disconnect and delusion. When, not if, Gelo falls far short of that, it will be everyone else’s fault, with the target #1 being Steve Alford.
In sports, general managers and coaches have a willingness to put up with distractions that is in direct proportion to the payoff of players’ talents. For Lonzo, a consensus top-five pick who is an unselfish player with historically significant court vision, you can spend a few months dodging questions about the helicopter troll dad.
LaMelo Ball–the youngest brother who was a sophomore this last season–also has big upside potential, but he’s not LeBron James. He’s ranked 16th in his high school class — under normal circumstances every program in the country would want him on their team. But, LaVar Ball isn’t normal circumstances. With the engagement his comments draw, there are only going to be more microphones stuck in front of him, not less. If things go south with Gelo at UCLA, the chances of LaMelo still attending UCLA are impacted anyway.
If Steve Alford wants to run a basketball program that is not a reality show, he’s got to be thinking about severing ties with the Ball family sooner than later. The one complicating factor is not LaVar, or the potential of LaMelo in a few years, but loyalty to Lonzo Ball. Lonzo Ball’s arrival helped save Alford’s job this last season, after the disappointment of 2016. By all accounts, Lonzo was well-liked and a model player for the program, despite the distractions from LaVar. He will also, along with players like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, be one of the prominent former UCLA players in the league. LiAngelo getting an offer from UCLA in the first place is an offshoot of Lonzo coming to Westwood.
LiAngelo Ball signed during the early signing period in November. Legally, it’s murky whether UCLA can outright rescind his offer, but Alford has no obligation to actually play him. Informally, after the latest drama and all the warning signs of how this is going to play out, Alford could tell him that Gelo isn’t going to play much at UCLA next year, and extend an invite to pursue something elsewhere. If LaVar and Gelo know right now the latter will not play a single minute next year, will they really want to stick around?
Presumably, there exists an institution and coach out there that wants and/or needs the attention. That ain’t UCLA.