CHICAGO -- Lonzo Ball found himself in a familiar situation on Wednesday night: his team up 20 points in the final minutes of a game, his brain still wired like he didn't have a second to spare.
The McDonald's All-American Game was already a blowout late in the second half when Kentucky commit Bam Adebayo picked up a blocked shot and slammed it through the net. Ball waited impatiently out of bounds, frantically shaking his hands until someone gave him the ball so he could inbound it. In one motion, Ball rifled a one-handed pass to the opposite free throw line to hit streaking teammate Josh Jackson in stride for a dunk. The entire sequence took less than two seconds of game time.
"Thank god for Lonzo Ball," Jackson said after the game when accepting his co-MVP trophy.
It was only one highlight from a game full of them, but the play was a perfect snapshot of everything that makes Ball one of the most unique prospects the McDonald's Game has ever seen. His game is equal parts flash and substance, with outlet passes and deep pull-up jumpers serving as the foundation for a 6'5 point guard with a special skill set.
Ball didn't score on the night, but putting up points has never been a problem for him. His 13 assists tied a McDonald's Game record, and his vision and touch were immediately evident with half-court alley-oops and no-look bounce passes to cutters.
Almost everything about Lonzo Ball is different, and the entire country will be able to see that for itself when he arrives at UCLA next season. Ball is many things: the oldest of three brothers that have taken the state of California by storm, the leader of what might be the greatest high school basketball team of all time and maybe even the evolution of the game personified. There is no limit on where he can go from here.
(via the McDonald's All-American Game)
The most dominant basketball team on Earth resides in California, but it's not the Golden State Warriors. One day before he flew out to Chicago for the McDonald's Game, Ball put the finishing touches on the most spellbinding season of high school basketball ever witnessed.
When Chino Hills beat De La Salle to win the state championship on Saturday, the 20-point margin of victory was the closest game the team played throughout the postseason. The numbers that make up Chino Hills' resume are completely mind boggling. It won its first game by 89 points, it averaged over 98 points on the year in 32-minute games, it played full-court press from the opening tip to the final buzzer and did it with only a six-player rotation. The end result was a perfect 35-0 campaign.
Three of those players grew up in the same house, and all of them are committed to UCLA. LiAngelo Ball is a junior, LaMelo Ball is a freshman and Lonzo was the star of the show. Lonzo averaged 25.4 points, 12.9 assists and 11.5 rebounds per game -- stats that seem impossible until you watch how Chino Hills actually plays.
"My dad told me that you can always slow down but you can't always speed up," Ball told SB Nation. "He taught me how to play fast, and ever since then I've been playing fast."
To watch the Ball brothers play is to observe something that only vaguely resembles basketball. They take 30-foot threes more confidently than most players take free throws. They rifle the ball the length of the court all game long with zero discretion. They make the "seven seconds or less" mantra once employed by Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns look like a team that walks the ball up the court.
The Ball brothers have always been insulated, playing together on the same grassroots team since LaMelo turned 11 years old. That team -- Big Ballers NXT -- isn't part of the shoe company circuits that dominate AAU basketball. Instead, the Balls chose to play under their own circumstances: all in the same starting lineup, playing a brand of ball no one else could dream up.
"We didn't have to worry about all the media," Ball said. "We can just go out there and work on our game. Eventually you have to see everyone in college, so it makes no sense to try to play them all right now."
It's a philosophy that very much stood in direct contrast to the path taken by the rest of his peers at the McDonald's Game. Ball wasn't playing the highest level competition and he was often turning down invitations to All-Star events where the best players in the country go at each other. Will Ball still look like such a special talent next season at UCLA when he's playing in a more traditional offense and without his two younger brothers at his side?
"I guess I'll just have to make some new brothers," Ball said.
The unprecedented origin story of Lonzo Ball as an elite prospect makes him especially tough to scout -- not just as a recruit but also as a long-term prospect. His incredible success has come within a gimmick system that he's unlikely to ever play in again. At the same time, his frame, three-point stroke and playmaking ability will immediately make NBA teams take notice.
"His vision is absolutely elite," said Josh Gershon, a national scout for Scout.com. "There haven't been too many players in high school basketball history that have come along with his skill set, his versatility, his size for the position. He's a tough eval just in that he's a really unique player.
"You can't hold his style of play against him. He didn't choose the offense. But as a scout you have to say, I'm watching a basketball game that so much of this is not real basketball. Or at least what real basketball looks like in college or the NBA. It does make it a much more difficult eval than the typical high school basketball player that you're evaluating."
It's hard to get past the numbers for a player who averaged a triple-double on an undefeated state championship team. If you can do it, there's a rough outline of what looks like a special prospect.
The Warriors and San Antonio Spurs have thrived in large part because of brilliant individual passers, something Ball does better than any player in the class of 2016. Many point guards with Ball's size struggle to shoot, with Michael Carter-Williams and Shaun Livingston serving as the best examples. Ball has a strange, side-winding release to his jumper, but he'll shoot it from anywhere and it often goes in.
As the NBA game continues to place a premium on tempo, there's no question Ball can thrive playing fast.
There's simply nothing quite like Lonzo Ball's journey to get to this stage, and he's about to be in for a drastic change. The only question is whether Lonzo Ball has to adjust to the next level, or if the next level has to adjust to him.
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