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Monday, December 26, 2016
UCLA's Lonzo Ball done experimenting with new shooting motion
dec 22, 2016 | clay fowler |o.c. register | ARTICLE LINK
A few weeks before he put on a UCLA uniform for the first time, Lonzo Ball sat down for a meeting with the coaching staff, his father and his trainer.
The only item on the agenda was Ball’s unconventional shooting motion.
Atypical for a right-handed player, the freshman point guard raises the ball above his head in a sidewinding style by way of the left side of his face.
Despite the notion Ball experienced nothing but shooting success to that point, the shooting motion caused enough concern to prompt a meeting of the minds. The consensus was for Ball to experiment with a more conventional form over the next two weeks and evaluate it during UCLA’s three exhibition games in Australia in August.
The test results were unequivocally negative.
“I was just second-guessing it the whole time,” Ball said. “I could probably change it with time, but trying to change what I’ve been doing my whole life in a couple weeks, it probably wasn’t going to work. My shot was just too inconsistent.”
Thirteen games into his first college basketball season, Ball’s shooting motion still generates plenty of conversation, but nobody is arguing with the results.
He is shooting 53 percent from the field and 43 percent from the 3-point line. Among an elite guard lineup for a UCLA team with the best collective shooting percentage in the country, Ball trails only teammate Aaron Holiday in both categories.
To add further perspective to Ball’s statistics, Kevin Durant is shooting one percentage point better than Ball, and the Warriors forward is the only perimeter player among the NBA’s top 15 in field-goal percentage.
“I don’t care how he brings it, he gets it to the right spot at the right time and that’s just in the release,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “Ultimately putting the ball in the basket is the right spot at the end of the whole thing and he’s doing a very good job of that.”
Alford, who had a legendary college career at Indiana before playing six years in the NBA, actually grew up shooting the ball from the left side of his face before transitioning to the right side in junior high.
His son, UCLA senior Bryce Alford, shot with two hands before tweaking his shot as a sophomore in high school.
The quirks of Ball’s shot include a release that begins just above the left side of his forehead with his right forearm stretched across his body at a 45-degree angle.
Ball said the attempted change to keep his forearm perpendicular to the floor was in part driven by the way NBA scouts pick apart college players they’re preparing to invest high draft picks in. Ball is projected to go in the top five by DraftExpress, should he declare for the 2017 NBA draft.
However, no level of scrutiny trumps success and Australia was the first time Ball experienced anything different.
“When he came back, we just 100 percent scratched it and said go back to what you do because at that point it was just so vital for him to just be comfortable,” Ball’s personal trainer, Darren Moore, said. “For a guy like Lonzo who plays off instinct, with him thinking about his shot on the court, it just threw him off. His instincts are something I’ve never seen before and having to think about his shot, it was compromising what makes him so great.”
When Ball first began playing basketball as a child, he shot the ball from the conventional right side. As he toyed with his form growing up, he had the most success shooting it from the left side of his face. From then until he was named the Naismith High School Player of the Year following a 2016 California state championship as a senior at Chino Hills High, Ball never had much reason to change.
His unconventional form worked better while shooting off the dribble going to his left and it’s more effective shooting a step-back jumper planting off his left foot. Kentucky is familiar with the latter after Ball ended the first half of UCLA’s 97-92 win over the top-ranked Wildcats Dec. 3 in Rupp Arena with a deep, step-back 3-pointer.
He made a 30-footer to pull UCLA even with Michigan at the first-half buzzer of an 18-point Bruins win Dec. 10.
Ball hasn’t just been a high-percentage shooter, he is building a reputation as a fearless one.
“His timing of making shots, it’s impeccable,” Steve Alford said. “We’re at Kentucky and he hasn’t made anything, but he makes a shot to end the half. I’ve coached guys that when the lights are on, things change a little bit. It’s not that he shoots it poorly in practice, I’m just saying people look at him and where he brings the ball and you don’t think he’s going to be a guy that makes shots.”
LaVar Ball has coached his three sons, all of whom will play at UCLA, on the AAU circuit since they were old enough to dribble. A college basketball player himself with ample knowledge of the game, he never attempted to alter Lonzo’s form because his oldest son was so successful with it.
The fast-breaking, long-range shooting style taught by their father is the primary reason the Ball brothers aren’t afraid to pull the trigger closer to halfcourt than the 3-point line.
Conventional basketball methods aren’t something with which LaVar Ball is overly concerned, an attitude he applies to shooting motions too.
“Larry Bird shot the ball on the side of his face. Reggie Miller pushed the ball. Jamaal Wilkes circled the ball around his head before he shot it,” LaVar Ball said. “I didn’t mess with Lonzo’s shot because there is no such thing as a perfect jump shot. Everybody shoots it differently. People are talking about how his mechanics are bad. Who cares? It goes in.”
Lonzo Ball said Australia will likely be the one and only time he experiments with his form. His desire “to be like everybody else with a so-called “good jump shot” has faded as fast as he has risen to the top of the college basketball scene.
He is a unique player in every sense and his shooting motion is no exception.
“When I first saw his shot over on that side, I was like huh?” Moore said. “But everybody has a way of finding confidence in their shot and I think Lonzo’s shot is who he is. And I remember telling him when he came to UCLA, ‘Don’t change who you are.’”