MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Kentucky and UCLA players were asked a similar question on the eve of their Sweet 16 matchup: What has changed from the first time these two teams met in December? Perhaps the most notable difference between then and now is the emergence of the most famous father in college basketball: LaVar Ball.
Ball the son is a likely top-5 pick in the upcoming draft. Lonzo leads the Bruins with nearly 8 assists per game and is third on the team in both points and rebounds per game. But on the day his son was practicing in FedEx Forum before Friday’s Kentucky-UCLA matchup, LaVar was on the set of ESPN’s First Take to tout his skills vs. Michael Jordan’s.
Stephen A. Smith and LaVar Ball was must see T.V. on First Take today. pic.twitter.com/8uekIvJxyc
— Dylan (@DylansFreshTake) March 23, 2017
“In my heyday, he would need help,” LaVar Ball told host Stephen A. Smith. “He too small. His name’s big. Five-on-five game he good. One-on-one? I’m undefeated. Never lost.”
LaVar Ball’s bold claims usually center on Lonzo — whom he once said was better than NBA MVP Steph Curry. Another time LaVar said Lonzo was Magic Johnson “with a jump shot.” And one time he said he expects a $1 billion marketing deal for his sons from the likes of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour. But Lonzo Ball’s game, and focus, has seemingly been immune to the talk.
“It’s pretty normal for me,” Lonzo said Thursday. “He’s been talking like this since I’ve been born, so it’s nothing new for me. Y’all get to see it for the first time, and he’s always on TV. That’s the only difference.”
But the spotlight is only going to shine brighter on Ball come Friday night as he looks to lead the Bruins past the Wildcats and into the Elite Eight. Just as Ball has brushed off his dad’s words, so too have his teammates.
“We don’t care what anybody has to say,” senior guard Bryce Alford said. “We’ve done a great job of keeping outsiders outside.”
“I don’t really care about it that much,” sophomore guard Aaron Holiday said. “He’s just LaVar being LaVar I guess.”
Added Holiday, “You’ve gotta do what you do to support your kid.” And that’s the predicament with the elder Ball. The balance of being a promotor of his sons’ future vs. harming them. CBS Sports columnist Gary Parrish told SEC Country that LaVar has taken the act too far.
“If you were to ask people right now, ‘Who’s the worst father in college basketball?’ They would tell you LaVar Ball,” Parrish said. “I get where that comes from, but I would argue he’s amazing. We cover a sport where too many of these kids don’t have fathers, or don’t have strong male role models in their lives. They come from single-parent homes or no-parent homes… We should be celebrating the LaVar Ball story.”
The jabs at Jordan and comparisons of Lonzo to Magic have turned many off. But through it all, the Bruins are keeping to themselves and winning games. And Lonzo Ball is quietly in the middle of it.
“He’s really cool and calm through it all, which I really applaud him for,” UCLA junior center Thomas Welsh said of Lonzo. He’s kept his head and that’s all you can really ask for in that situation.”