Since a couple of days, the spotlights of international basketball are aimed more then ever on the LKL League, the 1st Division basketball in Lithuania. For the wrong reason. Because LiAngelo (19 years old) and LaMelo (16 years old) Ball signed for the remainder of the season a contract with the Lithuanian club Vytautas Prienu. Whoever follows basketball in the USA knows for sure father Lavar Ball, which oldest son Lonzo plays his rookie season for the L.A. Lakers. On a daily basis father Lavar gets into the sports news with provoking quotes, mostly about the enormous talent of his sons.
About a year ago I decided to visit Lithuania, see picture gallery below. Ever since I wrote a couple of years ago about Lithuania as a talent hotbed for basketball, I got intrigued by this tiny basketball nation. With 3,3 million habitants, Lithuania was a contender almost every time the past decades on the Olympics, World Cup and Eurobasket. On top, they delivered several NBA players as Valanciunas, Motiejunas and Kuzminskas behind earlier legends as Sabonis and Ilgauskas.
The pioneer of Lithuanian basketball, Arvydas Sabonis, founded in ’94 his own basketball school in Kaunas and is since ’11 president of the Lithuanian basketball federation. Visiting his basketball academy was an absolute must for me. In Kaunas I attended also another basketball school of Aisciai. I went to the Euroleague game Zalgiris Kaunas – Darussafaka and a domestic LKL game at Vilnius Rytas. Where-ever I came, from the old-fashioned school gym next to my hotel to the big arenas of Zalgiris/Rytas, the Lithuanian basketball world pays respect to its former glories. The aspect of ignition to the kids is enormous in the rich basketball tradition and culture. Consequently, it is every kid’s dream and proud to play for their team as good as they possibly can. It translates into a huge respect on all levels of young players for their coaching, enhancing deep learning every single practice. This became even more clear when on a Thursday evening I went for a drink in the main street of Kaunas. Every bar had a couple of big screens showing a Euroleague game (between Milan and Bamberg, which as far as I know are not situated in Lithuania 😉 ). Literally everybody in the bar, women included, where focusing and discussing the basketball game over a beer. Where I come from, as in every other soccer dominated country, this is a wet dream of everybody in the basketball community.
The combination of ignition, deep learning because of the highly motivated kids, and master coaching by that much talent over the past decades seem to be a perfect cocktail for all of their successes. Another proof for the excellent overall youth program is the fact that Lithuanian players are generally known to be good shooters with a proper shooting form. And that’s exactly why the arrival of the brothers Ball is ironic. Formed by their selfmade coach/dad, Lonzo is also known for his odd shooting technique, as you can see below:
In fact, his shooting technique is so odd, that he never can take a shot when coming off a ballscreen to his right. Being right handed, he brings his ball so far to the left that in this situation he brings the ball too close to his defender coming over the screen.
Let’s say that how his two brothers ended up in Lithuania is at least equally odd. The story is that LiAngelo with a couple of teammates in China for stealing and ended up in jail, just before UCLA’s season’s opener in Nov ’17. With the help of president Donald Trump, the got back to the USA after a couple of days. UCLA decided to suspend these athletes indefinitely, upon which father Lavar withdrew his son from College looking for a professional contract overseas, which they found in Lithuania.
So far, the whole operation seems to be a money gig for both the club and the family Ball. The club, that has been struggling financially, upgraded ticket prices, caught huge amount for company names on their jerseys, … while Lavar Ball sees his opportunity to introduce his own sports brand to Europe. Yesterday, the club announced to withdraw from the Baltic League (!!) and will be playing games in the “Big Baller Brand Challenge Games“. I kid you not.
Oh yes, talking basketball again… Will we be discussing a lot the extra value of the 19 and 16 year old Ball brother to the Lithuanian basketball history? Probably not. They haven’t shown at any point to come close to players as Ricky Rubio or Luka Doncic, who played at a very young age at the highest European level.