Call it a bittersweet end to a high school career, that of LaMelo Ball. Just ahead of his final game for Spire this past Sunday, the younger of the Ball brothers was named the MVP of this years’ Grind Session season on Saturday. Given the field of players to feature on the Grind Session World Championship, the feat is something to consider as he had to overcome competitors such as teammates Rocket Watts and Isaiah Jackson, both nationally ranked among the best 35 players of the 2019 and 2020 classes respectively, and others like phenom Julian Newman (from Downey) or Nimari Burnett (Prolific Prep).
But between all of the names that saw playing time in the competition, the most notable two because of their game and what they accomplished are those of Zion Harmon and Terry Armstrong. Both players of Bella Vista teamed up in what amounted to be the final game of the Grind Session and a victory over LaMelo’s Spire Institute, marking the end to Ball’s high school career on a negative note for him. In a tight, high scoring game that finished 96-94 in favor of Bella Vista, LaMelo contributed 25 points, 8 boards, and 6 dimes but it wasn’t enough to make him a champ.
Although this won’t be the last time Ball puts on a jersey that still represents his high school stint (he’ll be part of his very own All-Star gig playing at the BBB All-American Game come March 31), his days before turning pro or taking on D-I competition are virtually over.
What is next for LaMelo? No one knows for sure.
By this time we all know the Ball’s family story. Three brothers once playing for Chino Hills and destined for greatness on the biggest of stages, the NBA, by the way of UCLA. LaVar had everything outlined, the California-based college was determined to bring all Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo to campus, and then it’d only be a question of time for NBA teams to pick the Ball brothers in the draft and make them part of an NBA roster (ideally that of the LA Lakers). Bad for LaVar, things did and are not turning out quite as expected.
While Lonzo walked the walk perfectly imagined by LaVar competing with UCLA for a season and turning into a great one-and-done by being picked No. 2 in the 2018 NBA draft by the Lakers, LiAngelo saw himself out of UCLA before ever stepping on the Bears’ court and LaMelo will probably never play for the D-I college where he seemed to be destined to feature as the leading point guard for, after being handed a scholarship offer back in 2015 when he was just 14 years old.
After an infamous spell in Lithuania playing for Vytautas, LaMelo was already considered a professional player for pretty much anyone at age 17, thus abandoning his potential NCAA eligibility and forcing him to play a couple of years of basketball somewhere else before trying to join the NBA given the rule stating that a player must be 19 or have played an extra season after his high school graduation before joining the Association.
Although the situation looked clear enough, doubts started to grow around LaMelo’s figure once he joined Spire and playing high school ball back again after doing so for Chino Hills before moving to Europe. Some high caliber programs as Oak Hill Academy and La Lumiere canceled already-scheduled matchups against Spire because of concerns regarding Ball’s professional status and the implications it could have for their national championship berths at the end of the season.
Back in January, ESPN updated its 2019 recruiting rankings and included LaMelo which came as a surprise given his eligibility concerns. It cannot be negated that he has improved as a player during his playing time at Spire and he’s become one of the actual best players in the nation during the last few months. He is currently considered a Top 20 player in this year’s class and a four- or five-star recruit depending on the scouting service. There is no doubt LaMelo, still 17, is a great ball player that could potentially swing any college’s aspirations for the 2019-20 season prior to his declaration for the NBA draft in the summer of 2020.
LaMelo’s plans are clear and they were stated by the youngster himself not that long ago. He said in November that he wanted to play for programs like Duke, Kentucky or North Carolina (talk about some bluebloods...). In February things seemed to become a little more solid when he affirmed that he had maintained conversations with both USC and Kansas on a potential enrollment.
Will any of those colleges risk a potential dispute with the NCAA board given the clouds hanging over Ball’s eligibility? Being honest, it doesn’t feel like they will actually pull the trigger and offer LaMelo a spot.
So, ruling out college and D-I basketball for Ball next season, the most feasible option for him to follow would be that of joining the G League as one of the top prospects to make it, thus being awarded a select contract. The timing can’t be better. The G League will launch those contracts starting next season, just in time for LaMelo to take advantage of the situation and play for a team of the NBA’s development league while making $125,000 for the season he’ll be there.
There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that Ball is good enough to be one of the two, three or four prospects seen as “select contract candidates” that could make the G League next season. He has the abilities, and not only that, because he could be a complete draw for a league that has grown lately in terms of attention and could benefit quite a lot for having a player with such a circus around him as LaMelo.
The consensus belief is that, given the chance and assured eligibility, Ball’s path would go through the NCAA’s Division I courts by enrolling in any of the potential offering colleges. There is almost no doubt of that as LaMelo has made clear. The concerns and lack of information (at least made public) is what will probably force him the other way, the G League one.
The already discussed decision of backing off matchups against Spire from prep-schools has also been taken by other event organizers keeping LaMelo out of upcoming All-Star games as the McDonalds All American, the Allen Iverson Roundball, and the Jordan Brand Classic. Of course, he deserved a spot on those if only judging his quality as a player, but it goes beyond that and makes it clear the situation is quite delicate around Ball nowadays and for the nearest future.
All in all, this is very much an odd situation that both the player and his family, the NCAA-linked colleges and board, and also NBA franchises will need to navigate through and deal with. Entering the collegiate circuit looks like an out-of-hand option. Coming back to Europe or moving to China for a season seems unlikely. Playing for a G League franchise appears to be the best and clearest of options for LaMelo.
Only time will tell, but whatever the outcome ends being, be sure the final destination for the youngest of the Ball brothers is almost a lock to be the NBA. Let’s hope the next year goes fast enough to finally see LaMelo play in the League.