LaMelo LaFrance Ball (born August 22, 2001) is an American professional basketball player for the Illawarra Hawks of the National Basketball League (NBL).
Ball began high school at Chino Hills High School in California, where he won a state championship and achieved national success as a freshman with his older brother Lonzo. Before his junior season, a coaching dispute prompted him to leave Chino Hills and sign with Lithuanian professional team Prienai. In 2018, he played in the Junior Basketball Association (JBA), a league created by his father, before returning to high school as a senior with SPIRE Institute in Ohio. He originally committed to play for the UCLA Bruins men's basketball team but later made the decision to forgo college and joined the Illawarra Hawks in Australia, where he won NBL Rookie of the Year.
Ball has a signature shoe by his father's LaVar Ball company, Big Baller Brand, and a role on his family's Facebook Watch reality show Ball in the Family.
Born in Anaheim to LaVar and Tina Ball, LaMelo was raised in the suburb of Chino Hills along with his two older brothers, Lonzo and LiAngelo. Both of his parents were student-athletes at Cal State Los Angeles: Lavar was an American football player and Tina was a basketball player.
Ball began playing basketball at age four and considered his older brother Lonzo as a role model and cites him as a reason he got started in basketball, facing much older opponents. He also played flag football with his brothers at age five but continued to focus on basketball. In 2013, while in seventh grade, Ball began playing with his brothers on Big Ballers VXT, a 17-and-under Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team launched and coached by his parents. The team, which was not sponsored by a major shoe company, did not compete in top AAU circuits and instead took part in local competitions.[
High school career
In his freshman season, Ball attended Chino Hills High School in Chino Hills, California, where he played basketball for the Huskies under head coach Steve Baik. He was teammates with his two older brothers, Lonzo and LiAngelo, and his cousin, Andre Ball. In his first game, Ball scored 27 points as a starter. On March 5, 2016, he scored 26 points in a win over Sierra Canyon School for the CIF Southern Section Open Division title. Later in the month, Ball helped his team capture the CIF Open Division championship after recording 14 points against De La Salle High School. Chino Hills finished the season with a 35–0 record and claimed the mythical national championship. Ball averaged 16.4 points and 3.8 assists per game and was named MaxPreps National Freshman of the Year with his teammate, Onyeka Okongwu.
As a sophomore, Ball played under Stephan Gilling and was teammates with LiAngelo and Andre Ball. In December 2016, he made national headlines for making a half-court shot two seconds into a game. On February 7, 2017, Ball scored 92 points in a win over Los Osos High School for the second-highest individual scoring effort in California history. He was criticized for cherry picking, as he often waited near half court to get an open shot on his next possession instead of defending. Ball averaged 26.7 points and almost 10 assists per game, earning MaxPreps Sophomore All-American Team recognition. On July 27, he featured in an AAU game against five-star recruit Zion Williamson that drew the attention of national sports media.
On October 2, 2017, before his junior season, Ball left Chino Hills to be homeschooled because his father disapproved of newly-appointed head coach Dennis Latimore and school administration. On December 7, 2017, he signed with agent Harrison Gaines to play professionally overseas alongside his brother LiAngelo. The decision indicated that he would not play college basketball. In the following days, Gaines offered the brothers to professional teams in various European countries and Japan.
On December 11, 2017, Ball signed with Prienai of the Lithuanian Basketball League (LKL), along with his brother LiAngelo. Although they both had the option of leaving after a month, they later chose to stay for the remainder of the season. Ball reportedly became the youngest American to ever sign a professional basketball contract. The brothers' move to Lithuania was heavily reported by American sports media. Prienai withdrew from the Baltic Basketball League upon their arrival and took part in various exhibition games sponsored by Big Baller Brand. On January 13, 2018, Ball made his professional debut, going scoreless in five minutes against Lietkabelis. On February 4, he scored a season-high 19 points, with four three-pointers and six assists, in a loss to Žalgiris. In an exhibition game toward the end of the month, he suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for a month. On April 25, Ball left Prienai with his family, as his father displayed resentment towards the team's head coach Virginijus Šeškus. He finished the LKL season averaging 6.5 points and 2.4 assists, shooting 26.8 percent from the field, in 12.8 minutes per game.
On May 4, 2018, Ball signed with the Los Angeles Ballers of the Junior Basketball Association (JBA), a new league created by his father as an alternative to college basketball, and was touted by the league as its "marquee player." In his debut on June 21, he posted a triple-double of 40 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, and three steals, shooting 15-of-40 from the field, in a 134–124 win over the New York Ballers. Over eight regular season games, Ball averaged a triple-double with 39.6 points, 14.6 rebounds, and 11.5 assists per game, while being named to the All-Star Game. In the playoff semifinals versus the New York Ballers, he scored a season-high 55 points, 16 rebounds, and seven assists. He led Los Angeles to a JBA championship over the Seattle Ballers. After the season, Ball was among 14 players named to the JBA USA Team, which would face several European teams on an international tour. On October 31, in an exhibition game versus Dzūkija Alytus on the tour, he was ejected after slapping an opposing player during a scuffle. Ball, on November 5, left the JBA tour to return to high school in the United States for his senior season.
On November 5, 2018, after skipping his junior year and a part of his senior year to play in Lithuania and his father's Junior Basketball Association (JBA), Ball joined SPIRE Institute, a prep school in Geneva, Ohio, for head coach Jermaine Jackson. SPIRE competed outside the jurisdiction of the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA), allowing Ball to play without concerns over his amateur status. A number of prominent high school teams canceled their match-ups with SPIRE because Ball's professional experience would threaten their eligibility under their state federations. He was ruled ineligible for the 2019 McDonald's All-American Boys Game due to his professional experience. In January 2019, his team was removed from the Hoophall Classic tournament after event organizers did not meet a $10,000 request from a Ball family associate in order for Ball to play. On March 9, Ball was named MVP of the Grind Session tournament after helping his team reach the championship game.
Ball verbally committed to play college basketball for UCLA at age 13, before starting high school, becoming the third of his brothers to commit to the school. Ball, who was also recruited by Virginia and Washington State at the time, said that UCLA was his "dream school." He emerged as a top recruit in the 2019 class during his sophomore season in high school. Most recruiting services considered him a five-star recruit and one of the top point guards in his class. When Ball returned to high school after a professional stint, he remained a five-star recruit.
On August 31, 2017, Big Baller Brand, a sports apparel company launched by Ball's family in 2016, released a signature shoe for him called the Melo Ball 1. The shoe's release threatened Ball's eligibility under the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Ball's father ignored the concerns and considered having his son skip college for that reason. Ball's signing of an agent and his professional experience further imperiled his NCAA eligibility. Despite questions surrounding his eligibility, which discouraged major NCAA Division I programs from recruiting him, he expressed interest in playing college basketball upon his return to high school in November 2018. In the following months, Ball explored alternative options to the NCAA, including prep school, the NBA G League, and professional leagues in Australia and China.
|Name||Hometown||High school / college||Height||Weight||Commit date|
|Chino Hills, CA||SPIRE Institute (OH)||6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)||180 lb (82 kg)||—|
|Recruiting star ratings: Scout: N/A Rivals: 247Sports: ESPN: ESPN grade: 93|
|Overall recruiting rankings: 247Sports: 22 ESPN: 21|
Illawarra Hawks (2019–2020)
On June 17, 2019, Ball signed a two-year contract, including NBA out clauses, with the Illawarra Hawks of the Australian-based National Basketball League (NBL). He joined the Hawks through the NBL Next Stars program, which aims to develop NBA draft prospects from other countries. Ball moved to Australia with his former SPIRE Institute coach Jermaine Jackson, who became his manager and helped him acclimate. In late September, he found success at the NBL Blitz, a pre-season tournament. After recording 19 points, 13 rebounds, and seven assists in a preseason win over the Perth Wildcats, he soared to No. 3 on the ESPN 2020 NBA mock draft.
On October 6, in his first regular season game, Ball tallied 12 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists on 6-of-17 shooting in a loss to the Brisbane Bullets. He assumed a more important role following a season-ending injury to star point guard Aaron Brooks on October 27. Ball recorded a career-high 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists on November 25, in an overtime victory over the Cairns Taipans, to become the youngest NBL player to record a triple-double. In his next game, Ball posted another triple-double with 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists but was held to 10-of-28 shooting in a loss to the New Zealand Breakers. He became the fourth player in league history, and the first since the NBL switched to 40-minute games in 2009, to record consecutive triple doubles. On December 8, before he played another game, it was announced that he would miss about four weeks of action after bruising his foot in practice. On January 16, 2020, while still sidelined, Ball decided to sit out for the remainder of the season. He parted ways with the Hawks on January 28 to return to the United States and prepare for the 2020 NBA draft. Through 12 NBL games, Ball averaged 17 points, 7.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game, shooting 37.7 percent from the field. At the end of the season, he was named NBL Rookie of the Year over Kouat Noi by five votes (49–44)
Since his freshman season in high school, Ball has drawn the attention of national sports outlets and established a large social media following. Many analysts have called him a celebrity. Ball has a role in the Facebook Watch reality show Ball in the Family, which was launched in August 2017 and documents the lives of his family members. On June 26, 2017, Ball appeared on a segment of WWE Raw with members of his family, during which he told his father, "Beat that n***a ass!" The WWE later apologized for his "inappropriate language." His cousin, Andre, plays college basketball for Pepperdine.