After being selected #3 by the Charlotte Hornets, the youngest Ball brother, LaMelo Ball, finally enters the NBA. With 5.5 million followers and a reality show, Ball is arguably the most famous draft prospect since LeBron James.
This hasn’t always been positive, though.
Media and fans alike have been quick to characterize the 19-year-old phenom as “overhyped,” “selfish,” and “lazy.” However, according to LaMelo’s Illawarra Hawks teammates, those descriptions could not be further from the truth.
While LaMelo Ball earned some criticism for his antics during his time in Lithuania, he appears to have matured in Australia. In an exclusive by Basketball Forever, virtually every one of LaMelo’s teammates had amazing things to say about the future Hornet, from his work ethic to his humility.
I categorized the most important quotes below.
One shared concern in Illawarra? LaMelo would be cocky and egotistical. As it turned out, he was incredibly down to earth—even straight-up likeable.
“I wasn’t so sure about bringing him in at the start, but now I’m a big fan of his,” says forward Tim Coenraad, the 2015 MVP for the Hawks. “He’s a great kid who just wants to learn. It’s a pleasure to be around him.”
Coenraad’s sentiments were echoed by Sunday Dech, a former Division II college basketball player and 2x NBL champ, now playing for the Hawks.
“He was a great guy, just a regular kid who loves playing basketball,” said Dech. “He loved hanging out with the guys and being part of the group.”
LaMelo’s attitude extended beyond his teammates to others in the organization.
“He made sure to build relationships with every one of the guys,” says Dan Grida, a guard on the Hawks. “He knew everyone’s name from the beginning… players, coaches, staff, everyone. He made everyone feel important.”
Todd Blanchfield, an 11-season NBL veteran, agreed, saying LaMelo “made a deliberate effort to buy in.”
Strong Work Ethic
Beyond his team-first attitude, LaMelos’ work ethic made an impression on many, including the NBL league commissioner, Jeremy Legliger, who commented that LaMelo was a “respectful young man,” “a hard worker,” and “incredibly driven.”
Pro basketball writer and sportscaster Liam Santamaria also described Lamelo as having a “great work ethic.” Shane Heal, a former NBL player and current NBL coach, says LaMelo is “so committed to doing all of the extra work.”
Speed and Ball Handling
While LaMelo’s attitude is certainly impressive, it’s his playing ability that’s most impressive.
Only 19 years old, Lamelo is listed as 6’8″ and described as “deceivingly quick.” His ball-handling and passing ability combination give him the potential to be a Magic Johnson style point guard.
“The first time I really saw how good his passing was in the flesh,” Coenraad says. “We were in traffic, and I thought there was no way he’d be able to get the ball through, but somehow he did. The way it curved and spun was ridiculous…. There aren’t too many players in the world throwing passes like that.”
Others outside the team also noticed LaMelo’s reputation as a passing magician. Fox Sports Australia Writer Olgun Uluc had this to say:
“When you see the types of passes that he’s throwing, they’re even more impressive in person. I remember there was a pass that he made, it was this little pocket pass that when you actually saw it in person, you really see how small the margin of error actually was and you realise just how special that part of his game really is.”
Proof is in the Pudding
LaMelo’s ability shows up on the stat sheet too. Named 2019-2020 NBL Rookie of the Year, Ball was second league-wide in both assists and steals, averaging 7 and 1.7, respectively. He averaged 17 points a game — the seventeenth highest in the league.
However, skeptics argue that NBL competition doesn’t present an accurate comparison to the NBA skill level. This despite many NBA greats cutting their teeth in the NBA, including Stephen Jackson, Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, and former number one pick, Andrew Bogut.
However, internet haters in distant lands would maybe do well listening to Balls’ teammate, Dan Grida.
“Watching some video of him, you might think you can handle him,” he says. “But you can’t.”