LaMelo Ball doesn't regret unorthodox path to NBA: 'School's not your priority'

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USA TODAY 17 August, 2021 - 11:31am 17 views

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LaMelo Ball Says He Has No Regrets About Skipping College for NBA: ‘We Don’t Need School’

Complex 17 August, 2021 - 12:08pm

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“Let me rephrase… school not for everybody,” he wrote. “Now if u wanna b a doctor… Betta take that ass to scoo.”

He continued, “So please don’t b going to ya mommas talkin bout some ion wanna do school ‘melo said u don’t need it’ when u not like tht and not all the way invested in ya Plan A which in my case was the (league).”

Fresh off winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award, Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball said he has no regrets about his unorthodox path to the league.

During a recent GQ profile, the 19-year-old shared his thoughts about leaving high school and skipping college in favor of playing professionally overseas en route to the NBA.

“You wanna go to the league, so school’s not your priority,” Ball said. “We not trippin’ off school. We not dumb. We know how to learn. We don’t need school. And school not even teachin’ you shit — what the f*ck is school?”

Of course, Ball has reason to have courage in his convictions. After skipping his junior year and part of his senior year to play professionally overseas, first in Lithuania and then in Australia, the California native was selected as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

From there, Ball captured the NBA Rookie of the Year award on the strength of averaging 15.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game for Charlotte this season. He also shot 35.2% from 3-point range, overcoming a wrist injury late in the season before helping lead the Hornets to a spot in the play-in tournament.

Charlotte Hornets Summer League Observations: Gelo shots, Kai Jones' dunks, James Bouknight’s confidence

Sports Illustrated 17 August, 2021 - 11:59am

Ball didn’t start in any of the Charlotte Hornets’ five games, including their 99-74 defeat to Chicago at the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday night. Yet, he was one of the headliners at the league’s annual summer showcase, drawing in large crowds who cheered his every move and chanted for him when he wasn’t in the game.

"It was a good experience," Ball said. "I was able to pick up new things and learn new stuff because I have never done summer league before. It was a good experience overall. I was glad to be here." 

Some chuckled when word broke that Ball was going to be on Charlotte's summer league’s roster. There were those who figured the Hornets were simply doing a favor for his younger brother LaMelo, using it as a method of keeping the reigning rookie of the year happy.

Ball quickly put that thought to rest when he netted 16 points in 16 minutes in their first game, canning 5 of 10 attempts. Despite the crowd’s constant urges to let it fly anytime he touched the ball, he played within himself and never seemed to try to do too much.

In the five games, he demonstrated he has a quick release, paired with a thick 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame that allowed him to mix it up in the paint with the occasional post up or keep things alive on the glass.

He entered their matchup with the Bulls averaging 10.5 points through those first four games, but couldn't quite get it going Monday. He connected on 3 of 13 shots, misfiring on all five beyond the 3-point line, and finished with six points.

Overall, he averaged 9.6 points, two rebounds and 1.6 steals in 17.4 minutes off the bench, making 18 of his 48 attempts.

It will be interesting to see what’s the next step for Ball. Did he do enough to land, at worst, an Exhibit 10 deal with the Hornets or another team to bring him into training camp? He believes that's the case. 

The answer should be forthcoming within these next few weeks and there will be undoubtedly plenty of people anticipating it.

"I feel like I belong in the league, but I know I can show more than what I did," Ball said. "I'm not satisfied with how I played this last game, but overall it was all right. I can always get better going forward."

Here are four more observations from summer league play:

One of the players who generated plenty of buzz was Kai Jones. It’s easy to see now why Hornets fell in love with him and had an agreement in place with New York, acquiring another first-round selection to pluck him off the board even after drafting James Bouknight.

Jones is like a pogo stick, bouncing around with glee. His athleticism is a breath of fresh air for a frontline that's been in dire need of adding someone to run the floor and give LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier and the other guards a high-flying option on fastbreaks.

Nearly averaging a double-double at 9.8 points and 9.4 points per game, he threw down some of the event's most ferocious dunks. Many rapidly made the rounds on social media, similar to another young leaper the Hornets have watched blossom in their system -- Miles Bridges.  

Jones is still extremely raw, though, and has plenty to learn. He had occasions where he tried to go coast-to-coast after getting a rebound or collecting a pass, often getting caught up in traffic and allowing smaller guards to come swipe at the ball and knock it away for a turnover. 

James Bouknight didn’t play in the finale, sitting it out with a sore right foot. But the glimpses seen of the 20-year-old during the team’s 10 days in the desert provided a snippet of his skill set. And, perhaps just as important, his tough-minded mentality.

Or as he puts it, that "New York swag."

Bouknight was the Hornets' leading scorer, averaging 16.8 points per game courtesy of that 23-point effort in the aftermath of his unexpected conversation with owner Michael Jordan. Sure, he has to get used to making plays quicker and not dance with the ball as much, instead understanding when to swinging it. 

But with Ball, Rozier and veteran backup Ish Smith taking care of the ball-handling duties once the regular season commences, he's not going to be asked to do as much as he was during summer league. He should be able to play somewhat freer, providing a smoother transition as he slides into his role as a reserve guard.

Due to having to wait until the Mason Plumlee trade became official, JT Thor was able to practice just once with his new teammates before they flew out to Las Vegas. When taking a peak at the team's final stats, however, few would believe it.

Thor's versatility was on full display. Whether it was stepping behind the 3-point line, a rim-rattling dunk, a fadeaway jumper or using his 7-foot-3 wingspan to alter a shot, he left a good first impression.  

His imprints are all over the Hornets' leaderboard: second in points per game (10), second in blocks (5), second in blocks (1) and third in steals (1). 

Thor could turn out to be another second-round gem found by the Hornets' brass, led by director of player personnel Larry Jordan.

A moment that stood out: Arnoldas Kulboka nailing a 3-pointer in front of the Sacramento bench, then turning around and talking trash to Kings.

Though it's unlikely, that would be a compelling sight to see in the upcoming regular season. But at least now it theoretically could happen.

After spending the bulk of the past three years playing overseas since getting drafted in 2018 -- save for some summer league appearances --  the 23-year-old Lithuanian signed a two-way deal earlier this month. So, on occasion he may be shuffling between the G League's Greensboro Swarm and the main roster. But it's going to take time. 

There are things to like: He averaged 8.2 points in four games and shot 35 percent beyond the arc. He led the Hornets in steals at 1.8 per game and was fifth in average minutes played.

The area Kulboka must still develop is defensively. Better awareness, improved footwork and overall knowledge of the team's defensive philosophies and principles are the things that need further sharpening before he can potentially be counted on to help out on the main roster.

Roderick Boone is a veteran multi-media sports journalist with more than two decades of experience. He's covered the NBA, NFL, MLB, Division I college athletics and more.

LaMelo Ball Is the Golden Child

NBA 17 August, 2021 - 07:00am

In fact, he regards himself as a kind of viral entity in his own right. “How do I feel about memes?” he ponders for a tick before giggling wryly. “I grew up with this shit.” LaMelo's impact on his teammates is “like getting infected,” he explains. “It's a whole different swagger and everything. N-ggas carry theyselves different. N-ggas goin' to they jobs different. Ya feel me?”

I'm not entirely sure that I do until I sit with James Borrego in the Hornets head coach's office and he cranes his head back and booms that familiar sound: “Sheeeeeeeeeeeesh!” I had asked Borrego to encapsulate LaMelo's fabulous rookie season. To which the coach cups his mouth, widens his eyes, and loopily blurts like his star player.

“Sheeeeeeeeeeeesh!” I shoot back. We both chuckle, contaminated like all of Charlotte by the LaMelo contagion.

But honestly, what other word is there? “Sheeeeeeeeeeeesh!” is the logical response to LaMelo's video game passes, all-court vision, and fast-break theatrics, which propelled him to one of the greatest statistical seasons by a 19-year-old in NBA history, the Rookie of the Year award, and the role of franchise centerpiece on the traditionally moribund Hornets. And it's in keeping with his massive online popularity with the next generation of basketball fans; he ranks sixth in Instagram followers gained and views generated in the 2020–21 regular season, according to internal NBA rankings—LeBron James and Steph Curry territory.

LaVar had a dream built in the image of Richard Williams, Mario Andretti, and Archie Manning: Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo would become NBA superstars playing fun, run-and-gun basketball. And for a while the perfectly named Balls were the first family of hoops, the Kardashians of the court, with a reality-based Facebook show and a self-owned apparel company. If Lonzo was the brooding brother and LiAngelo the quiet type, LaMelo was regarded as the jocular one.

He felt isolated in Lithuania, and the local fans weren't the kindest either. “N-ggas was throwin' waters and Gatorades and they drinks at n-ggas and all that shit,” he says. In Australia, he was a constant triple-double threat but, after playing just 12 games before sitting out the season, also a mystery. When he entered the 2020 NBA draft, “there [was] a narrative out there,” Borrego tells me. “It can be complicated bringing a player like Melo in. ‘Will it be just about Melo?’ ‘Can you coach the kid?’ ‘Is there gonna be a show in town?’ ‘How much is the family involved?’ Those were all questions that were being thrown at us.” When he was drafted, The Charlotte Observer wrote that the Hornets had made a mistake and he'd never mature into a star. “There were questions about this, questions about that,” his manager, Jermaine Jackson, says, smirking. “All those questions got erased real fast, as you see. All them people and reporters sayin' that shit, and you see what they doin' now?”

But for all the big-time swagger and adult-size responsibilities, he's also still just a teenager who loves Stranger Things and is afraid of spiders, thanks to his time Down Under. “Nahhhh, man. In Australia? Big-ass spiders. I'm talking this big,” he says, tilting his head back in disgust, measuring the size of his shaggy locks to demonstrate. “Hellll naw! That bitch was too big!” As for Stranger Things: “The concept? The way that shit look? Number Eleven? She goin' crazy! That shit hard as fuck! Her lil' nose be bleedin'?” LaMelo begins to wipe his nostrils, emulating the rapper Young Thug. “Slime! Kill a n-gga!”

Take the way he explains one of his current favorites while we're talking on a balcony in his apartment building in Charlotte. “Everybody always asks me what's my slogan—kids, old people, adults. Two words, breh: Be you. Because if you ain't you, you being somebody else and you already fucked up from the jump. So now whatever you trying to do, it ain't never you. Either you gonna be unhappy or something is fucked up,” he says, wistfully gazing out across the city. “Say you building something and you got all the instructions and you fuck up from the beginning? N-gga, you ain't never gonna build that shit. Ever. You just gotta be you from the jump, and whatever supposed to happen gonna happen. But if you ain't you, you already lost.” He's rolling now, occasionally turning and staring for a second as if I'm supposed to know his punch line before he delivers it, offering a tiny grin between his words, motioning and winking like I'm in the front row of his comedy special. LaMelo congratulates himself on his homily. “That's a fact. That's a big fact!”

At this point, LaMelo's talent is undeniable, “a jolt this program has needed, this city has needed,” Borrego says. Still, Borrego feels that someone has to hold LaMelo accountable. “There's times you have to speak the truth to young players, and Melo's no exception,” Borrego explains. LaMelo didn't immediately follow the patterns that turn boys into men and rookies into professionals in the NBA, he says. “The habits of being on time. Not skipping a weight session. Studying your playbook. Knowing your plays. These are areas of growth that he's working on.” He's trying to drill those habits into LaMelo now. “Let's not wait three or four years, when he's too far gone and already a star. Then you can't pull him back.”

LaMelo is a star right now. The goal for all parties is for him to mature into a bona fide supernova and even bring a championship to Charlotte, which sounds unlikely now but, if LaMelo progresses as he should, is no longer completely crazy to dream of. “That's definitely the plan, man,” LaMelo says. “I want to be here for a long time. I love the game. I love being around it. This is what I wanted to do with my life.” All summer he's been in Charlotte, perfecting his craft with tailored workouts and 2 a.m. gym sessions. If LaMelo stays healthy this season—he missed 21 games last year—Charlotte has a chance to evolve from League Pass Legends to the national stage as frisky fringe contenders in the Eastern Conference. Borrego believes LaMelo can transform the Hornets' fortunes: “He has the potential to lead that charge more than anyone we've seen in this city in a long time.”

I thought I'd lost him, but I catch up with LaMelo later that day on the balcony, sipping a smoothie, enthralled by his own bliss. LaMelo is almost two hours late for our meeting—but then, this is the wunderkind Borrego lovingly describes as a “spirit of curiosity.” Of course LaMelo is late. He has more important shit to do than this.

“It's the life of a busy man, ya feeeeeel me?!” he says with a chuckle, kicking his feet up, getting relaxed. “I ain't gon' lie, I was definitely late,” he says. And then he offers yet another LaMelo mantra: “But when a n-gga finally get here? That shit be fireworks.”

Tyler R. Tynes is a GQ Staff Writer.

LaMelo Ball Is the Golden Child

ClutchPoints 17 August, 2021 - 07:00am

In fact, he regards himself as a kind of viral entity in his own right. “How do I feel about memes?” he ponders for a tick before giggling wryly. “I grew up with this shit.” LaMelo's impact on his teammates is “like getting infected,” he explains. “It's a whole different swagger and everything. N-ggas carry theyselves different. N-ggas goin' to they jobs different. Ya feel me?”

I'm not entirely sure that I do until I sit with James Borrego in the Hornets head coach's office and he cranes his head back and booms that familiar sound: “Sheeeeeeeeeeeesh!” I had asked Borrego to encapsulate LaMelo's fabulous rookie season. To which the coach cups his mouth, widens his eyes, and loopily blurts like his star player.

“Sheeeeeeeeeeeesh!” I shoot back. We both chuckle, contaminated like all of Charlotte by the LaMelo contagion.

But honestly, what other word is there? “Sheeeeeeeeeeeesh!” is the logical response to LaMelo's video game passes, all-court vision, and fast-break theatrics, which propelled him to one of the greatest statistical seasons by a 19-year-old in NBA history, the Rookie of the Year award, and the role of franchise centerpiece on the traditionally moribund Hornets. And it's in keeping with his massive online popularity with the next generation of basketball fans; he ranks sixth in Instagram followers gained and views generated in the 2020–21 regular season, according to internal NBA rankings—LeBron James and Steph Curry territory.

LaVar had a dream built in the image of Richard Williams, Mario Andretti, and Archie Manning: Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo would become NBA superstars playing fun, run-and-gun basketball. And for a while the perfectly named Balls were the first family of hoops, the Kardashians of the court, with a reality-based Facebook show and a self-owned apparel company. If Lonzo was the brooding brother and LiAngelo the quiet type, LaMelo was regarded as the jocular one.

He felt isolated in Lithuania, and the local fans weren't the kindest either. “N-ggas was throwin' waters and Gatorades and they drinks at n-ggas and all that shit,” he says. In Australia, he was a constant triple-double threat but, after playing just 12 games before sitting out the season, also a mystery. When he entered the 2020 NBA draft, “there [was] a narrative out there,” Borrego tells me. “It can be complicated bringing a player like Melo in. ‘Will it be just about Melo?’ ‘Can you coach the kid?’ ‘Is there gonna be a show in town?’ ‘How much is the family involved?’ Those were all questions that were being thrown at us.” When he was drafted, The Charlotte Observer wrote that the Hornets had made a mistake and he'd never mature into a star. “There were questions about this, questions about that,” his manager, Jermaine Jackson, says, smirking. “All those questions got erased real fast, as you see. All them people and reporters sayin' that shit, and you see what they doin' now?”

But for all the big-time swagger and adult-size responsibilities, he's also still just a teenager who loves Stranger Things and is afraid of spiders, thanks to his time Down Under. “Nahhhh, man. In Australia? Big-ass spiders. I'm talking this big,” he says, tilting his head back in disgust, measuring the size of his shaggy locks to demonstrate. “Hellll naw! That bitch was too big!” As for Stranger Things: “The concept? The way that shit look? Number Eleven? She goin' crazy! That shit hard as fuck! Her lil' nose be bleedin'?” LaMelo begins to wipe his nostrils, emulating the rapper Young Thug. “Slime! Kill a n-gga!”

Take the way he explains one of his current favorites while we're talking on a balcony in his apartment building in Charlotte. “Everybody always asks me what's my slogan—kids, old people, adults. Two words, breh: Be you. Because if you ain't you, you being somebody else and you already fucked up from the jump. So now whatever you trying to do, it ain't never you. Either you gonna be unhappy or something is fucked up,” he says, wistfully gazing out across the city. “Say you building something and you got all the instructions and you fuck up from the beginning? N-gga, you ain't never gonna build that shit. Ever. You just gotta be you from the jump, and whatever supposed to happen gonna happen. But if you ain't you, you already lost.” He's rolling now, occasionally turning and staring for a second as if I'm supposed to know his punch line before he delivers it, offering a tiny grin between his words, motioning and winking like I'm in the front row of his comedy special. LaMelo congratulates himself on his homily. “That's a fact. That's a big fact!”

At this point, LaMelo's talent is undeniable, “a jolt this program has needed, this city has needed,” Borrego says. Still, Borrego feels that someone has to hold LaMelo accountable. “There's times you have to speak the truth to young players, and Melo's no exception,” Borrego explains. LaMelo didn't immediately follow the patterns that turn boys into men and rookies into professionals in the NBA, he says. “The habits of being on time. Not skipping a weight session. Studying your playbook. Knowing your plays. These are areas of growth that he's working on.” He's trying to drill those habits into LaMelo now. “Let's not wait three or four years, when he's too far gone and already a star. Then you can't pull him back.”

LaMelo is a star right now. The goal for all parties is for him to mature into a bona fide supernova and even bring a championship to Charlotte, which sounds unlikely now but, if LaMelo progresses as he should, is no longer completely crazy to dream of. “That's definitely the plan, man,” LaMelo says. “I want to be here for a long time. I love the game. I love being around it. This is what I wanted to do with my life.” All summer he's been in Charlotte, perfecting his craft with tailored workouts and 2 a.m. gym sessions. If LaMelo stays healthy this season—he missed 21 games last year—Charlotte has a chance to evolve from League Pass Legends to the national stage as frisky fringe contenders in the Eastern Conference. Borrego believes LaMelo can transform the Hornets' fortunes: “He has the potential to lead that charge more than anyone we've seen in this city in a long time.”

I thought I'd lost him, but I catch up with LaMelo later that day on the balcony, sipping a smoothie, enthralled by his own bliss. LaMelo is almost two hours late for our meeting—but then, this is the wunderkind Borrego lovingly describes as a “spirit of curiosity.” Of course LaMelo is late. He has more important shit to do than this.

“It's the life of a busy man, ya feeeeeel me?!” he says with a chuckle, kicking his feet up, getting relaxed. “I ain't gon' lie, I was definitely late,” he says. And then he offers yet another LaMelo mantra: “But when a n-gga finally get here? That shit be fireworks.”

Tyler R. Tynes is a GQ Staff Writer.

Hornets' Core Of Guards Is Still As Sharp As Ever

ClutchPoints 16 August, 2021 - 02:09pm

Devonte’ Graham departed from Charlotte after receiving a four-year contract with the New Orleans Pelicans this offseason. Graham will surely be missed, but the Hornets did not waste any time in filling out their guard rotations.

They added James Bouknight and Scottie Lewis through the 2021 NBA Draft. In free agency, they added veteran guard Ish Smith and Kelly Oubre, who can flex into that two-guard spot if need be. Of course, they will have the two lead guards in Terry Rozier and the reigning Rookie of the Year, LaMelo Ball back in uniform coming into the 2021-22 season. They should not miss a beat despite not having Graham back in Buzz City for next season.

Ish Smith has been a journeyman around the league for what seems like forever, but he is no slouch. Smith is a feisty playmaker and defender. He will come in right away and have an impact on and off the court. He is also a native to the Charlotte area, so he should be amped to play for this franchise.

Another one of the vets, Terry Rozier, will be ready to perform well this season after a hot 2021 campaign. His career highs across the board are good signs for the Hornets.

Also, let us not sleep on Kelly Oubre playing some shooting guard for this young squad. Oubre is a versatile defender and scorer, so it is possible he will find his way into the rotation of guards for the Hornets. After playing one season in Golden State, he is prepared to show some of that splash magic he learned from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

James Bouknight was a phenomenal pickup for the Charlotte Hornets via the draft. He was a bonafide scorer back at Connecticut and Charlotte is hoping he can recreate that same kind of production in the pros. His game looks well-rounded when it comes to putting the ball in the hole and I’m sure his point guard will make sure he gets touches when they are on the court together.

Speaking of that point guard, LaMelo Ball has a knack for finding the right man. He already has the ability to make anyone on the floor better, as we saw with Rozier and Gordon Hayward this past season. He is only going to get better and that is a scary sight for the other 29 teams in the league not named the Hornets.

Devonte’ Graham will be missed though. He has shot over 37 percent from deep the past couple of seasons. Graham developed into a solid player over the past few seasons and everyone should be happy for this former second-round pick. They usually are not mainstays in the league after a few years, but Graham seems like he will be in the league for years to come. The Charlotte Hornets are grateful for his contributions to the organization, but it is time to focus on the youth movement in Buzz City.

Copyright © ClutchPoints. Partner of iOne Digital / Cassius Network.

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