One player to watch in this year’s NCAA March Madness is UCLA freshman Lonzo Ball. The star point guard is projected to be a top NBA draft pick after just one year in college, and his two younger brothers are dominating their high school competition.
Lonzo’s father, LaVar Ball, built a backyard basketball court with one goal in mind: to turn the three Ball brothers – Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo – into ball players.
LaVar and wife Tina Ball met when both played college basketball.
“So was this, ‘Hey, let’s have a family of basketball players?’” CBS News’ Dana Jacobson asked.
“To know we was gonna be playin’ basketball, you gotta have the right genes,” LaVar said. “I had a lot of short cuties, but Tina was tall – wow, ka-boom! So I was, like, ‘Man, you know what? I’m gonna get three boys.’”
“Tina, did you know this was what you were in for?” Jacobson asked the Ball brothers’ mother.
“Oh, that was the plan. He said, ‘Tina, I’m gonna have boys. I hope you didn’t want girls,’” she said.
And just as LaVar predicted, the couple’s basketball genes were passed along to their sons.
“I knew I had a brand once I had all three of ‘em. It’s gonna be the Big Baller brand,” LaVar said.
Of course those Big Ballers started off small.
“It was kinda contradicting ‘cause people was, like, ‘Look, Big Ballers and – small as they are.’ But after we finished whoopin’ their tail, they knew who the Big Ballers were,” LaVar said.
Soon they weren’t so little. The boys trained with their father seven days a week, even on holidays.
That dedication led to success. Last year, all three played together at Chino Hills High School in Southern California: Lonzo as a senior, LiAngelo as a junior, and LaMelo as a freshman. Their on-court chemistry, up-tempo play and unlimited range electrified packed gymnasiums as they led the school to its first undefeated season and a state championship.
“The game is just a lot easier, you know, when you get to play with the people you live with and see them every day,” Lonzo said.
This year, as UCLA’s starting point guard, Lonzo led the Bruins in assists and propelled the school to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Forty miles east at Chino Hills, his brothers haven’t missed a beat.
“Melo, do you miss having all three of you there this year?” Jacobson asked.
“No, I mean, I get more shots this year,” LaMelo said, as the rest of the family laughed.
LaMelo’s 92-point game came just weeks after LiAngelo put up 72 points in an outing. Videos of the brothers now regularly go viral. This one has been viewed more than half a million times.
“I told people… when my boys finish playin’ ball over here, soon as you say Chino Hills, the first thing gonna come out their mouth is gonna be ‘Ball brothers.’ And now, it’s happening, and they shocked. I just walk around smilin’,” LaVar said.
LaVar Ball – as you might have noticed – doesn’t exactly hold back when it comes to talking up his boys.
“He’s gonna be better than Steph Curry in the NBA!” LaVar once told TMZ Sports, comparing Lonzo to the NBA MVP. That comment is just one of several headline-grabbing statements he’s made recently, leading to criticism from some sports writers and analysts.
“People have said, ‘You need to just be quiet, and let your kids play ball,’” Jacobson said.
“But they actually say, ‘He needs to shut up,’” Tina said.
“I’m gonna tell you what two words don’t meet – they don’t mix: LaVar Ball and shut up. You can forget that,” LaVar said.
“He’s been talking like that since I was born, like I said,” Lonzo said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Now, let me tell you somethin’. They’d be shocked if I didn’t say nothing,” LaVar said.
“I laugh, because whoever they try to compare my boys to, he’s gonna say they’re better than them. It doesn’t matter who because that’s what he believes,” Tina said. “The bar’s high. That’s fine with me.”
That high bar leads to competition in almost everything this tight-knit family does, even a game of dominoes. It’s also created an unmistakable bond between the boys and their parents. Whether or not these three basketball phenoms all end up playing in the NBA, as their father has predicted, you know there is one place you will always find them playing ball.
“Let me tell you guys, the backyard is always open. Whenever you want to test your dad, come on through!” LaVar said.