Let the record show that LiAngelo Ball made a bigger impact on diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China than he ever did on a basketball court.
The freshman averaged zero points, zero rebounds and zero assists as he failed to play even a second of actual NCAA basketball. Oddly enough, though, contained within the international incident he may have started, LiAngelo and his family have evoked a new model of player development that seems more logical in the context of arcane college guidelines.
LaVar Ball announced that he is having both of his younger sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, sign with agent Harrison Gaines as they prepare for a brief career overseas before trying their hand at the NBA Draft. Although all three Ball brothers committed to play at UCLA, it seems that only the oldest, Lonzo, will fulfill the promise of that commitment, and that may prove to be a mutually beneficial decision.
On the other side of the country, Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye was ruled ineligible for receiving payments as a result of ad revenue from his YouTube channel. The YouTube videos in question depicted De La Haye…kicking a football. It has long been thought that the NCAA’s model of amateurism is illogical and draconian, but now it appears that those rules are positively arcane, unwilling to be updated to reflect the changing market for sports.
De La Haye quit the Knights' football team to continue to make money off of his talent without running the risk of injury, and could still have a chance at an NFL career should he pursue the draft. Unlike the NCAA, the professional leagues do not necessarily care about college rules violations that do not involve actual crimes.
For this reason, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball may be more justified in playing overseas. Although the level of competition in college basketball may be higher, and there is clearly higher exposure, young international prospects are scrutinized just like their one-and-done American counterparts. Marvin Bagley III is averaging a double-double playing against some of the best competition available, but that is not stopping NBA scouts from believing that Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic may be the best prospect in the 2018 NBA Draft.
The Ball brothers can be evaluated on their American high school tape as well as their overseas performances while being compensated for putting their bodies at risk. LaMelo is already set to be a moneymaker, becoming the youngest athlete to have his own signature sneaker available for purchase.
The Ball family has given no lip service to the act that the three boys were going to UCLA for an “education,” and it is honestly refreshing to be spared of the theatrics. They are basketball players, and it seems nonsensical to have them doing anything except playing basketball and getting paid in the process.
From UCLA’s point of view, this could be a blessing in disguise. Not only does Bruin head coach Steve Alford avoid the struggle of dealing with LaVar’s theatrics, but the one-and-done model may spare Alford from a long-term roster construction standpoint.
Both NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Mike Krzyzewski have made comments indicating that the one-and-done system is broken on both sides of the equation. College programs have to retool year after year to compensate for premature departures, and NBA teams get raw, undeveloped, difficult to evaluate talent that may or may not pan out at basketball’s highest level. Look no further than Lonzo Ball being outplayed night after night by his older Los Angeles Lakers teammate and fellow rookie Kyle Kuzma.
The key to consistent winning in college basketball remains veteran talent. Only the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats and 2015 Blue Devils stand as exceptions, and Duke likely would not have pulled out the win that season without the shot-making of Quinn Cook throughout the year and the timely defense of Amile Jefferson.
Even Duke and Kentucky, despite attracting the most coveted prospects and winning titles, have suffered numerous ignominious postseason defeats that veteran-heavy squads are more immune to. Duke began heavily recruiting one-and-done players with Kyrie Irving in 2011, and has been eliminated in the first or second round of the tournament three times. Kentucky missed the postseason just one year after winning the national championship.
Compare that to the teams usually making deep postseason runs—North Carolina has been to two of the last three national championship games, Wisconsin made two consecutive Final Fours, Michigan State consistently heats up in March and Villanova won a national championship thanks to its veterans. None of those teams started many freshmen, and they consistently make appearances in the Sweet 16 and beyond.
In short, the Ball brothers appear to be ahead of their time in player development for their sport. Despite the media circus that will undoubtedly follow them everywhere they go by virtue of their brand and pundits' incensed reaction about LaVar’s decision for his sons, the Balls may end up on the right side of history when it's all said and done.
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