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Articles on this Page
- 11/21/17--06:00: _Luka Doncic in 2018...
- 12/05/17--13:10: _CORRECTION: LiAngel...
- 12/05/17--15:49: _European coach trol...
- 12/05/17--16:26: _Fran Fraschilla tro...
- 12/06/17--03:30: _LiAngelo Ball-LaMel...
- 12/06/17--11:21: _LOOK: The e-mail Li...
- 12/07/17--11:39: _Europe probably isn...
- 12/07/17--11:58: _Will LaVar Ball's '...
- 12/07/17--14:47: _European team that ...
- 12/11/17--13:46: _REPORT: LiAngelo Ba...
- 12/11/17--15:49: _ESPN predicts probl...
- 12/11/17--16:05: _LOOK: The gym where...
- 12/11/17--17:27: _LiAngelo Ball on La...
- 12/11/17--18:16: _Big Baller Brand ce...
- 12/12/17--03:00: _LiAngelo, LaMelo Ba...
- 12/12/17--03:45: _GM of LiAngelo, LaM...
- 12/12/17--05:00: _Pros and cons of Li...
- 12/12/17--06:15: _Jonas Valanciunas t...
- 12/12/17--14:17: _Lithuanian GM expla...
- 12/12/17--15:50: _LISTEN: Lithuanian ...
- 12/06/17--03:30: LiAngelo Ball-LaMelo Ball package deal shopped in Europe and Asia
- 12/07/17--11:39: Europe probably isn't the best option for LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo Ball
- 12/11/17--15:49: ESPN predicts problems for LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo Ball in Lithuania
- 12/11/17--18:16: Big Baller Brand celebrates LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball signing overseas
- 12/12/17--05:00: Pros and cons of LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball playing in Lithuania
- 12/12/17--14:17: Lithuanian GM explains 'experiment' with LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo Ball
- 12/12/17--15:50: LISTEN: Lithuanian broadcaster sings to LiAngelo, LaMelo, LaVar Ball
Dennis Smith Jr., De’Aaron Fox, Markelle Fultz and Frank Ntilikina will all face challenges in pursuit of Lonzo Ball’s NBA triple double record this season. Come 2018-19, Marvin Bagley III could give chase, but only if he turns into A) a monster shot-blocker or B) a Wilt Chamberlain-like passer. Within the next two seasons, the biggest threat to the Los Angeles Lakers rookie’s current mark might come not from any domestic phenom, but from Europe’s most enticing export: Luka Doncic.
The 18-year-old Slovenian sensation is widely considered the best player across the Atlantic—if not the best non-American who isn’t currently in the NBA—and has been burning up draft boards for years now. He’s sniffed triple doubles as a pro since the age of 16.
And though he has yet to snare one in an official competition, his size (6-foot-7), scoring ability (16.9 points per game for Real Madrid so far this season), preternatural passing skills and keen feel for the game portend prodigious production across the box score once he gets accustomed to the NBA game and earns significant minutes wherever he lands.
In some respects, Doncic might look like Europe’s answer to Lonzo. Both are big guards who make the game easier for their teammates and contribute across the board. Neither is considered a superlative athlete. And while both shot well before getting to the NBA, the caliber of defensive competition in the league could depress Doncic’s percentages, just as it has Ball’s.
That adjustment (i.e. how quickly or slowly it comes) will have plenty to do with Doncic’s success as a triple-doubler, just as it does with all the other players dissected in this series. So, too, will the soon-to-be import depend on the faith placed in him by the team that drafts him. If he winds up on a bad team that already sports a ball-dominant guard, Doncic might not get enough touches to stuff his stat sheets properly.
And if he’s a liability on defense, he could run into some difficulty garnering minutes on the court, let alone playmaking responsibility while he’s out there.
Should Doncic land in the right spot, he’ll have ample time to make his mark in league history. He’ll be 20 years and 15 days old—the same age Lonzo was when he broke LeBron James’ record for the NBA’s youngest triple double—on March 15, 2019. That figures to give Doncic around 60-65 games to feel his way through the Association and pile up some eye-popping numbers if he is, in fact, all he’s cracked up to be once he arrives on American soil.
An earlier version of this story suggested incorrectly that former UCLA men’s basketball player LiAngelo Ball and former Chino Hills High School standout LaMelo Ball were offered spots to play on Lietkabelis, a professional basketball team in Lithuania. In fact, according to Eurohoops.net, LaVar Ball’s two youngest sons were offered to the club, which plays in Lithuania’s LKL League and the EuroCup, by their representative. We regret the error and apologize for any resulting confusion.
Mantas Ignatavicius, the club’s General Director, told Krepsinis.net, which broke the story in Lithuania, that “the two Ball brothers aren’t concerned much about money and don’t consider their salary number as the most important thing since their priority is to play on the same team.”
As it happens, Lietkabelis is well-versed in signing players with family ties. The twins Ksistof and Darjus Lavrinovic currently play for the team, which is based in Panevezys, which is situated 81 miles from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
That’s a long way from Chino Hills for the Ball boys to play, and competing against grown men would be no easy feat for the 19-year-old Gelo or the 16-year-old Melo. But getting both of them to the same team anywhere on Earth may be even tougher—for now, anyway.
NCAA Basketball: Washington State at UCLAjoshmartin1025
LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball might find work in Europe—just not as basketball players. Shortly after Eurohoops.net reported that Lietkabelis had been offered LaVar Ball’s two youngest sons, Arturs Stalbergs, the coach of the club in Lithuania’s LKL League, suggested an alternative career for the Big Baller Brand reps.
“Yes, we have an opening at the security staff since they have an experience in this field,” Stalbergs tweeted and quickly deleted, per Eurohoops.net.
If Gelo and Melo opt to go that route, they might be better off training under Nic Vavakin, Lonzo Ball’s security guard, than with the Big Baller.
Fran Fraschilla had a cheeky word of warning for LaVar Ball. The NCAA coach-turned-college basketball analyst and European hoops expert for ESPN trolled the Big Baller Brand CEO with a callback to his past comments about “unathletic white guys” in relation to the types of teammates LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball might have if they play overseas.
Back in April, the Father of Balls blamed a specific subset of UCLA’s players for the Bruins’ loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 while Lonzo Ball was on the team.
“Realistically you can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow,” LaVar relayed to the Southern California News Group’s Clay Fowler. “I told Lonzo – ‘One of these games you might need to go for 30 or 40 points.’ It turned out that was the one game. Then once they get to the Elite 8, they’re right there.”
Ball subsequently backtracked on those comments—”I love those guys,” he said the day after his original remarks, per ESPN— but apparently, his initial offense remains stuck in Fraschilla’s craw.
LaVar’s two youngest boys have reportedly been offered to at least one European club: Lithuania’s Lietkabelis.
2017 Naismith Awards Brunchjoshmartin1025
Where in the world might LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball go to play pro basketball now that UCLA is out of the picture for the former and appears to be for the latter? Apparently, LaVar Ball’s boys have already been offered as a package deal to teams in Japan, Lithuania, France and Croatia, including KK Cedevita Zagreb, the reigning Croatian League champion.
According to Sportando, Melo has the better shot between the two of cracking the top level of European basketball, despite (if not because of) his age.
Again, there’s Gelo with the classic “middle child” problems.
LaVar Ball, LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo Balljoshmartin1025
It’s the e-mail seen ’round the world. Correspondence from Harrison Gaines—the agent to LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo Ball and Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball—seeking pro basketball employment for LaVar Ball’s two younger sons has already reached at least to France, Lithuania, Croatia and Japan, at least as far as what’s been reported to date. Now, that letter has landed on the internet at large, thanks to Basket Europe’s Cyril Camacho.
The main selling points seem to be that they’re Lonzo’s younger brothers, “Money is not a big concern” and “This would undoubtedly bring much attention to your organization.” In other words, “here’s a 2-for-1 deal on Ball boys that would snugly into any marketing budget!”
The basketball-related pitches come later. The one for “Liangelo” suggests that he—not Zo, a McDonald’s All-American in high school and eventual No. 2 NBA Draft pick out of UCLA—was the leader on that legendary Chino Hills High School squad. In the case of “Lamelo”, the facts are straight about his ESPN ranking and his 92-point game, the boast about him being a top-10 pick in 2020 doesn’t mention who is among the “many.”
As for the YouTube links included in the e-mail, the first is a highlight package of LiAngelo’s prep career-high 72-point, 13-triple eruption against Rancho Christian as a senior. . .
. . . and the latter is tape of LaMelo’s 36-point performance in the Huskies’ 96-91 loss to Oak Hill that snapped Chino Hills’ 60-game winning streak.
We’ll keep you posted on where this e-mail turns up next on Earth as that information leaks into the public. Oh, the places it’ll go!
Melo Ball's 16th Birthdayjoshmartin1025
LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball have been shopped and are being shopped all over the world as a package deal. But not all corners of the Earth are keen to host LaVar Ball’s kids before they take their respective shots at the NBA. Europe, for one, seems ready to pass on the Big Baller Brand’s youngest ambassadors.
“I don’t see LiAngelo or LaMelo playing on a real competitive team that wants to win,” Nicola Alberani, the general manager of Scandone Avellino in Italy’s Serie A league, told Bleacher Report’s David Pick. “In Europe, we have to win; this isn’t entertainment basketball.”
It’s also an expensive and risky proposition for a club across the Atlantic Ocean to take on Americans like Gelo and Melo. Per Alberani, it costs €13,500 to register an American for the top division in Italy, €11,000 for the second division and €9,000 in the third. That cost is fixed, regardless of how many games they end up playing.
“We only have eight visas for the season,” Alberani said, “so it’s impossible for any team to waste that on the Ball kids.”
Romeo Travis, who’s bounced around Europe since playing high-school ball with LeBron James, recommended that Gelo, in particular, target “smaller domestic leagues. . .where they expect the Americans to shoot early and often, so he can get a better feel for the game.”
All told, though, Europe’s intense focus on wins and wins alone won’t serve Lonzo Ball’s brothers well, says Errick McCollum, the older brother of Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum and former EuroCup MVP in his own right.
“Best player development teams would be in the U.S., because in Europe there is so much pressure on coaches to win,” McCollum said. “They don’t have time to risk trying to develop a young player like LiAngelo. They must win now or their job is in jeopardy.”
Now that the NCAA isn’t an option, finding the two youngest Ball boys a place to play in American may be the toughest of all—at least until each of them is eligible to try his luck in the NBA draft. At this point, LaMelo’s prospects in the Association appear to be far superior to LiAngelo’s in 2018, but the 16-year-old will have to wait until 2020 to make the leap.
NCAA Basketball: Washington State at UCLAjoshmartin1025
It’s one thing for a professional basketball team in Europe to spend its precious resources (i.e. time, money, roster spots) on developing LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball, when the edict abroad is, essentially, “win or else.” But the idea of having to deal with LaVar Ball and his bombastic promotion of both his kids and the Big Baller Brand seems to be another deterrent for Gelo and Melo’s potential employment overseas.
“I think all the loud noise LaVar Ball makes is fake. It’s to promote his Big Baller Brand and sell merchandise,” Nicola Alberani, the general manager of Italian club Scandone Avellino, told Bleacher Report’s David Pick. “That works in the U.S., it doesn’t work overseas.”
“I don’t know what to do with the dad, LaVar Ball (laughs),” said Francesc Solana, the general manager of Spanish club MoraBanc Andorra and one of many executives to be offered the younger Ball boys in a package deal. “This isn’t a good or normal situation; I don’t like it, we are not going to sign them.”
LaVar’s well-known antics didn’t deter the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, the most popular basketball team in the world, from taking Lonzo Ball with the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft. But neither Gelo nor Melo appears to be anywhere near the prospect Zo was coming out of UCLA.
And given everything that’s happened since draft day—from Lonzo’s struggles and the explosion of LaVar’s public persona to the early success enjoyed by other rookies (i.e. Jayson Tatum, Dennis Smith Jr., Donovan Mitchell)—it’s fair to wonder whether Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka might put a different youngster in Purple and Gold now if they had a mulligan.
LaVar Ball, LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo Balljoshmartin1025
On Tuesday, Arturs Stalsberg, the head coach of Lithuanian professional basketball team Lietkabelis, tweeted and promptly deleted a troll-tastic offer of “security staff” work to LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball. Now, we know why Stalsberg tried to erase the insult he intended for LaVar Ball’s two youngest sons.
According to Basket Europe’s Cyril Camacho, Mantas Ignatavicius, the general manager of Lietkabelis, said that his team is “interested in signing” Lonzo Ball’s younger brothers.
That makes at least one potential landing spot for the Big Baller Brand’s junior ambassadors overseas, so long as they (and LaVar) are cool with spending time in Eastern Europe.
Where else might they wind up? Stay tuned to find out.
The Big Baller Brand might soon be setting up camp in Eastern Europe. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball are in “serious discussions” to sign with Prienu Vytautas, which competes in the Lithuanian (LKL) League and the Baltic (BBL) League. The club will decide within the next day or two whether to “finalize an agreement” with LaVar Ball’s two youngest sons.
Prienu Vytautas currently sits seventh in the LKL with a 4-9 record, and isn’t expected to be one of the top teams by season’s end, per Eurohoops. The club does not compete in the EuroLeague or the EuroCup, but will face teams domestically that are in those competitions (i.e. Zalgiris Kaunas in the EuroLeague, Lietkabelis and Lietuvos Rytas in the EuroCup).
Per ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, Lonzo Ball’s brothers wouldn’t likely see much time in the LKL, but could garner significant minutes—perhaps as many as 20-to-25 per game—in the BBL, wherein BC Prieneai has won its last three games since forfeiting a contest against Sadolini Spordihoone on Oct. 31. From the team’s perspective, the additions of Gelo and Melo would be driven, at least in part, by marketing potential.
It’s a good thing, too, that the Balls aren’t concerned about the money, since there won’t likely be much on offer for them in Lithuania—if they get paid at all.
The family’s preference for a package deal over payment should make
Per Givony, Prienu Vytautas doesn’t have much history as a haven for American players. The only example he could find was former Vanderbilt guard Brad Tinsley, who didn’t last long in the town of Prienai.
Chino Hills isn’t exactly a big city itself. As of July 2016, the United States Census Bureau estimated a population of under 80,000 residents for the seat of the Ball Estate.
That said, Gelo and Melo are intimately familiar with the culture, language and lifestyle of Chino Hills. Prienai, some 5,900 miles away, will offer an entirely new set of circumstances, with little (if any) English spoken among a small sea of Lithuanian.
All the more reason, then, for LaVar and his brothers to accompany the two teenagers to this or any far-flung reach of the basketball world.
Stay tuned for further details.
LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball have reportedly signed one-year deals with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz, those signatures could be just the beginning of bigger problems for LaVar Ball’s two youngest sons.
As ESPN noted, Melo’s “erratic style of play”—which often featured the now-16-year-old combo guard launching shots from near halfcourt with his unorthodox mechanics at Chino Hills High School—could be a point of contention in Lithuania, “a basketball-crazed country where players pride themselves on their advanced feel for the game and discipline.”
Gelo, meanwhile, “would be expected to struggle to add any value in the Lithuanian or Baltic leagues” since he’s predominantly a spot-up shooter who “is a limited ball handler and defender, and plays strictly below the rim.”
Though both of Lonzo Ball’s younger brothers have been touted for their shotmaking abilities, neither was particularly efficient from deep in high school. According to data culled from Krossover, Melo hit 30 percent of his 605 three-point attempts with the Huskies, while Gelo drained just 32 percent of his 590 tries.
Nor do Vytautas’ circumstances seem conducive to helping the Ball boys improve—let alone enough to become bona fide NBA Draft prospects.
The team has no general manager and doesn’t practice regularly due to the poor financial situation.
Then again, the team’s coach, Virginijus Šeškus, has been described as “the LaVar Ball of Lithuania.” So if you believe in the Big Baller’s power to produce and train basketball stars, perhaps the move to Prienai will work out for the Big Baller Brand reps.
2017 CIF Southern Section Boys Open Division Championship - Semifinalsjoshmartin1025
Come January, LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball will be off to Prienai, a town of about 10,000 people in southern Lithuania, to begin their respective careers as professional basketball players in Europe. The next set of circumstances for LaVar Ball’s youngest boys will be anything but glamorous, up to and including Prienai Arena, where they will play for Prienu Vytautas under head coach Virginijus Šeškus, who’s regarded by some as “the LaVar Ball of Lithuania.”
Ben Brust, who played briefly in Lithuania following his four-year stint at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, passed along a less-than-impressive photo of the gym that Gelo and Melo will soon call home.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz added these details about the arena’s seating arrangements:
The club plays in a 1,700-seat arena; 500 of those seats are reserved for team sponsors and their friends. Tickets cost around 5 euro.
There’s no word yet as to how many more will need to be set aside for LaVar and his Big Baller Brand entourage. The good news is, it won’t cost them much to get in the building if the cash-strapped club can’t afford to comp them.
LaVar Ball’s plan to get LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo onto the Los Angeles Lakers with Lonzo Ball seemed far-fetched before he pulled his youngest sons out of school (i.e. UCLA and Chino Hills High School), and looks like a pipe dream now that Gelo and Melo are heading overseas to play with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas in January. But as LiAngelo told Bleacher Report’s Adam Zagoria during the Big Baller Brand’s New York City pop-up shop at Sneaker Pawn on Sunday, he has faith in the path that the Father of Balls has laid out for him and his 16-year-old brother.
“Yeah, it can happen,” Gelo said. “He knows what he’s doing, so I just trust the process.”
LiAngelo also noted that he’s fine leaving behind the college experience and all that entails.
“It’s fun. I respect the coaches and stuff, and I had friends on the team, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out,” he said. “I still gotta go my own way. I just gotta take a different route.
“Yeah, [college is] fun, but the real world is fun too, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out on nothing.”
We’ll see if he and Melo still feel that way once they’ve gotten a feel for Eastern Europe, where they will play professional basketball for the “LaVar Ball of Lithuania.”
LiAngelo Ball and LaVar Balljoshmartin1025
It’s official: LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball are heading to Europe in January to play professional basketball. To celebrate LaVar Ball’s youngest boys signing with Lithuania club Prienu Vytautas—which happened to coincide with Tina Ball’s 50th birthday—the Big Baller Brand pushed out posts on social media in support of Gelo and Melo pursuing their dreams “the Big Baller way.”
“It’s not about the money for the Ball Brothers,” the Triple Bs proclaimed. “They have a passion to play Basketball and to experience playing as pros was the Goal. They have accomplished this mission and are excited to be playing on the same team to top it off.”
It’s easy to believe that LiAngelo and LaMelo didn’t sign for financial reasons, since they won’t likely get much in return from BC Prienai.
Also believable: that Melo, at 16, will be the youngest American to go pro overseas.
This, mere months after he became the first high-school player ever with his own signature shoe, the Melo Ball 1.
Melo, for his part, seems stoked on his upcoming hoops journey to Eastern Europe.
And while the prospects of LaVar’s “Wild Boy” making an impact in Europe seem dubious, keep in mind that other young phenoms have made their mark on the continent at his age or younger.
Granted, Melo is no Luka Doncic, who might be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. And if there’s any member who compares to Ricky Rubio—as much for his passing and defense as for his wayward shot—it’s probably Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball.
What’s more, both Rubio and Doncic had the benefit of coming up through the European club system, learning that style of basketball along the way. LaMelo and LiAngelo, meanwhile, have been steeped in the American AAU culture, which tends to promote the individual over the team.
Whatever the end result may be, at least Gelo and Melo can enjoy this moment over the holidays before hopping on a plane and flying nearly 6,000 miles to embark on their unique basketball adventure, for better or worse.
LaVar Ball, LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo Balljoshmartin1025
LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball’s impending European adventure might not be about the money for them. But to Prienu Vytautas, the Lithuanian club that agreed to sign LaVar Ball’s two youngest sons to sixth-month contracts, the arrival of the Big Baller Brand reps is a “commercial project”—one that might last only a month, as club director Adomas Kubilius told local basketball journalist Donatas Urbonas.
The little brothers of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball are scheduled to arrive in the town of Prienai on Jan. 4 and play their first Baltic Basketball League game five days later against BC Tsmoki-Minsk at Prienai Arena.
Per Urbonas, the team “cheerfully accepted” the news, which Vytautas views as “a huge advertisement both for Lithuania, the city of Prienai and its club.”
Like a growing swath of NBA teams, BC Prienai is looking to cash in on jersey advertisements now that Gelo and Melo will be wearing them.
In case anyone is worried about the accommodations for the Ball boys in the 10,000-person village of Prienai: don’t be. They will have the option of staying at a “mineral spa” less than five miles from town.
If that doesn’t suffice, the boys can take up residence in nearby Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, with its population of around 300,000 residents.
It’s a good thing, though, that LiAngelo and LaMelo come from a family of means. Otherwise, they might have a hard time affording these posh options on the typical Lithuanian hoops salary.
With any luck, neither Ball boy will be in Prienai long. The next step in LaVar’s “master plan” to get all three of his sons onto the Lakers would require, first, that LiAngelo enter the 2018 NBA Draft. LaMelo, meanwhile, won’t be eligible for the draft until 2020, but could play his way onto a bigger, richer club in the event that his highly-rated talent translates overseas.
Between bolstering the boys’ pro prospects at home and promoting the Triple Bs abroad, this is as much a “commercial project” for the Ball family as it is for BC Prienai.
Melo Ball's 16th Birthdayjoshmartin1025
Adomas Kubilius, the director of Prienu Vytautas, seems not only excited for his Lithuanian club’s impending partnership with LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo Ball and (of course) LaVar Ball, but also eager to paint a clearer picture of what life will be like for them in the small town of Prienai.
“We talked only about Ball bros,” Kubilius said of his discussions with agent Harrison Gaines, per Lithuanian basketball journalist Donatas Urbonas, “but dad LaVar is also warmly welcomed in Prienai.”
Kubilius revealed that the team’s three-day negotiations didn’t directly involve anyone from the Ball family, but that Gaines requested “a 2-room apartment & a car with an automatic transmission” on their behalf.
“We don’t know what to expect,” he added. “But we hope that it will help the club. We already got a lot of attention. I hope it will also helps us financially. This is intriguing.”
The director insisted that the language barrier presented by head coach Virginijus Šeškus, who reportedly does not speak English, won’t be a problem, and offered a plea to “US people” that his town is “not a tundra.”
“I was already asked if we have the Internet here,” Kubilius said. “Actually, our internet connection is one of the best in the whole world. Tell them that they have nothing to be afraid of!”
Come early January, the Ball family will find out if Prienai is, in fact, a good place for Gelo and Melo to spend six months playing basketball, or if Kubilius was merely bluffing to bring some much-needed attention to his club.
BIG3 - Week Eightjoshmartin1025
The time for griping about LaVar Ball pulling LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball out of UCLA and Chino Hills High School, respectively, is over. Lonzo Ball’s younger brothers have officially signed with Prienu Vytautas, and will head to Lithuania in early January to play basketball and, presumably, rep the Big Baller Brand.
On its face, there is plenty of reason to worry about what does and doesn’t await Gelo and Melo in Eastern Europe. The two teenagers will leave behind their cloistered life in Chino Hills for the town of Prienai (population: 10,000), where the language, culture and food will be nothing like they have ever known.
The coaching situation also figures to be anything but a breeze for the Ball boys. Though Virginijus Šeškus, the coach of BC Prienai, has been described as “the LaVar Ball of Lithuania,” that doesn’t mean LiAngelo and LaMelo will be able to relate to him, let alone play for him.
Billy Baron—who competed at Virginia, Rhode Island and Canisius before playing for Šeškus at Lietuvos rytas in 2014-15—attested to the coach’s tendencies.
“I couldn’t really give you anything bad on him except for the fact he doesn’t speak English,” Baron told HoopsHype’s Bryan Kalbrosky. “He runs the club they signed for, so it’s a different situation than mine. He can do what he wants there.”
That said, the intense pressure on Šeškus to win in order to keep his job could work against giving significant minutes to Gelo and Melo, both of whom will likely require a divestment of resources from the club (i.e. time, attention, energy) to get them up to speed.
Not that there will be much practice time at BC Prienai to begin with.
“Where I was, he actually got fired after a 20-point win, so that speaks to the pressure he was under,” Baron added. “Lithuanian basketball is extremely physical though, would love to see their faces when they get hit with one of those screens.”
Should one of said screens cause an injury to Gelo or Melo, Vytautas might not have the proper training and medical staff to tend to their wounds. That, in turn, would work against LaVar’s “master plan” to get all of his sons on the Los Angeles Lakers.
Stylistically speaking, the run-and-gun Ball brothers seem an odd fit in a country where, according to ESPN’s Mike Schmitz, “Players are known for their strong feel for the game and discipline.”
But BC Prienai is no ordinary Lithuanian team, and Šeškus no ordinary coach. That much should be clear for the former based on the club’s eagerness to not only use the Ball boys as a “commercial project,” but admit as much publicly.
As for the coaching, while Šeškus may or may not be insane, his basketball philosophy appears to be aligned with LaVar’s. For one, his team recently set a Lithuanian League record for three-point attempts in a game (42).
And as a knowledgable source told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, Vytautas’ tendencies to mix players positionally, jack up threes and relax on defense make Gelo and Melo’s arrival “a perfect match.”
Off-court arrangements need not be a deterrent, either. If the Ball boys choose to stay in and around Prienai, they can shack up at the Vytautas Mineral Spa in the nearby resort town of Birstonas.
And if those accommodations grow stale, they can plant their BBB flag in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city.
Either way, this has the makings of the weirdest study-abroad program ever, basketball-related or otherwise. Thanks to Facebook Watch’s “Ball in the Family,” it all figures to be caught on camera and shown to the masses.
And isn’t that the biggest “pro” of all? That the world will get some entertainment value out of LaVar’s latest—and, perhaps, greatest—experiment?
Jonas Valanciunas knows what it’s like to be a teenager playing professional basketball in Lithuania. The Toronto Raptors big man, who turned pro in his home country at 16, sees a stint in the Eastern European country as “great opportunity” for LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball, but is happy to lend a hand to LaVar Ball’s boys should they run into trouble.
“If they have any problems, let me know,” Valanciunas told ESPN’s Law Murray with a wink. “I can help them out.”
Valanciunas, who starred for Lietuvos Rytas en route to becoming the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, described Prienu Vytautas, with which the Ball boys signed, as playing “high-level basketball.” In Jonas’ mind, “the sky’s the limit” for Gelo and Melo, so long as they put in the work.
“Talent is one [thing],” he said, “but how many work you put in, that’s gonna show up.”
Valanciunas insisted that there should be no language barrier for Lonzo Ball’s brothers since English is widespread, especially among the “young generation.”
As for whether the Ball family’s stunning decision made waves, JV noted that it is, in fact, “big news.”
“It’s a big opportunity for both,” he added, “for them and for us.”
The basketball world will see what both parties make of this chance when Gelo and Melo debut for BC Prienai in Baltic Basketball League play on Jan. 9.
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Ready or not, LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball are headed to Lithuania in January. LaVar Ball’s youngest boys will join Prienu Vytautas, currently in last place in the Lithuanian (LKL) league, for what Adomas Kubilius, the club’s director, described to Betsafe-LKL as an “experiment” that, he hopes, proves the Big Baller Brand reps are “good enough to play here.”
According to Kubilius, BC Prienai, as the team is also known, reached out to Harrison Gaines, the Ball boys’ agent, after hearing of other interest in Gelo and Melo in Lithuania.
“We saw [fellow LKL team] Lietkabelis publicizing the fact that they have been approached by an agent representing the Ball brothers and we just got in touch with him and put forward the idea of them playing for Vytautas,” Kubilius said, per a translation provided by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.
Kubilius confirmed that the contract includes a termination option that can be triggered after one month and that one of the club’s “goals” was to spin these six-month signings as a marketing opportunity for the organization.
As for playing time, neither Kubilius nor sport director Vilius Vaitkevicius would confirm reports of 20-25 guaranteed minutes apiece for the Ball boys in the team’s lesser competitions.
“We committed to giving them opportunities in the Baltic Basketball League (BBL),” Kubilius said. “We will have to see about the Betsafe LKL and whether they are good enough to play here.”
“It is too early to say where and how many minutes they will play,” Vaitkevicius added. “We’ll see how their conditioning is when they arrive. It is too early to tell how they will be used on the court. We will see.”
That evaluation process begins on Jan. 4, when Gelo and Melo are slated to arrive in Prienai. It should ramp up considerably on Jan. 9, when Lonzo Ball’s brothers are expected to debut for Vytautas against BC Tsmoki-Minsk in BBL play.
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Lithuania is pulling out all the stops to make LiAngelo Ball, LaMelo Ball and LaVar Ball to feel welcome well before the two youngest Big Baller Brand reps are slated to arrive in Prienai. Prior to Prienu Vytautas’ Lithuanian (LKL) League game against Kedainiai Nevezis, one of the broadcasters broke into not only English, but outright song to welcome the Ball family to the Eastern European country with a song aptly titled “Welcome to Lithuania.”
Chances are, LaVar, Gelo and Melo didn’t see this announcer’s crooning; they were in Manhattan to watch Lonzo Ball’s Los Angeles Lakers take on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
But former Knicks forward and native Lithuanian Mindaugas Kuzminskas caught it, and was pleased to see his fellow countryman go to such great lengths to make the Ball family feel right at home.
In what may be a troubling harbinger, BC Prienai went on to lose that game in overtime, 103-102.
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