“I don’t think any of us expected it to be quite like this,” Lonzo Ball said. “It’s been really crazy ... just trying to enjoy the ride.”
Coach Steve Baik’s team has put together a season unlike anything that has been seen before in Southern Californiaat the high school level. The 33-0 record and No. 1 national ranking are impressive enough. But the Huskies are selling out venues where ever they go, many of those several days in advance. The big draw is their entertaining run-and-gun offense that is averaging 100 points a game, something even more impressive given that high school games are just 32 minutes long.
• PHOTOS: Best images of Ball brothers in 2016
The current high school basketball season is one parents LaVar and Tina Ball have had mapped out for more than a decade. The goal was to have their three sons all play on the same varsity basketball team. That even meant pushing LaMelo, 14, up a grade, something that is the complete opposite of what many sports-minded parents actually do.
But the days of them playing on the same floor are down to a precious few. The Huskies will face Bishop Montgomery (28-2) in the CIF State Southern California Regional Open Division final at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday at The Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State. A win there and they would play for a state title the following week at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Whether it’s one more game or two, the Ball trio will be down to a duo soon. Baik admits it is something that has crossed his mind.
“I have thought about it but I don’t think it will sink in until we go to start preparations for next year and he (Lonzo) isn’t there. This has truly been special,” the coach said.
Lonzo has signed with UCLA and the two younger brothers have made verbal commitments to the Bruins as well. But there is little chance the brother act will take center stage for a sequel in Westwood. Lonzo has said on multiple occasionshe would like to be “one and done” in college and move on to the NBA, something most of the so-called experts say should indeed happen.
The fact that the three are going through the season together makes it all the more special.
“We get to go home and talk about it, that’s the best thing. We’re all in it together,” Lonzo said, following an afternoon practice.
Lonzo, who is averaging 25 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists, has already taken home two national player of the year awards, with more likely to follow.
LiAngelo, a junior, is averaging a team-high 27 points and has added another dimension to his game this year. He had primarily been a 3-point shooter but has focused on driving to the basket. He has also worked on is ball-handling skills in preparation for next season in which he’ll carry more of that load.
LaMelo, a freshman, averages 16 points and boasts a fearless demeanor on the court. He has played with his brothers and others several years older his whole life so he isn’t intimidated by bigger players. Some would say he’s brash, maybe even a little cocky but Baik calls him “confident.”
The team, the Ball brothers in particular, has nearly reachedrock star status. They’re asked for autographs and to pose for pictures after every game and have been the subject of stories in the national media, from the New York Times to USA Today. Being recognized off the court is a daily occurrence.
“It is a lot of fun,” LiAngelo said. “Not a lot of people have this experience but as been kind of crazy.”
All say the carnival atmosphere surrounding the team gained momentum after it won the City of Palms Classic in Floridaright before Christmas. In that event the Huskies knocked off Montverde Academy (Fla.), then the No. 1 team in the country and a basketball boarding school that recruits nationally and doesn’t compete in the Florida high school playoffs.
The Huskies took the No. 1 national ranking after that prestigious event in which they won three games against nationally ranked foes.
“It really took off after that,” Lonzo said. “And just kept growing.”
Sibling rivalry? You won’t find one here. None can remember the last time they argued or got into a fight — off the court. The few times conflict has arisen it has been on the court and stemmed from the competitive nature of all three.
Family is something LaVar has driven home as long as the boys can remember.
“He has always told us you have to love your brothers and take care of each other,” LaMelo said.
The scarey thought for future foes - Lonzo is the lone senior on the squad, Joining the brothers in the starting lineup are freshman Onyeka Okongwu and junior Eli Scott, both of whom have already drawn offers from Division I schools.
So the big question on the mind of most basketball enthusiasts? Will the Huskies stay with the up-tempo style of play after Lonzo graduates?
“Definitely. It’s who we are,” Baik said.
What is SoCal Prep Legends?
An award show that will honor the best prep athletes in Southern California at the end-of-the-school-year. For more information, visit socalpreplegends.com, where you can also vote for the SoCal Athletes of the Week and Play of the Week.