CHINO HILLS -- The Chino Hills High boys' basketball team takes the floor and this community high school suddenly becomes Hollywood, home to the best prep team in the country and the most entertaining hoops of any sort in Southern California.
Five seconds into a recent state playoff game against Reedley Immanuel, a lanky 6-foot-6 senior guard named Lonzo Ball nails a long three-pointer. Then he blocks a shot. Then he streaks downcourt for a layup. Then he twists through the lane for another layup.
Lonzo Ball, the Naismith high school player of the year, has brothers. Two of them. They play just like him. Together the trio is absolutely breathtaking. There is stocky 6-foot-6 junior LiAngelo Ball knocking down long shots and lofting in floaters. There is wiry 5-foot-10 freshman LaMelo Ball dribbling and sprinting and shooting around confused defenders.
All three have verbally committed to play for UCLA. From the looks of it, a cynic might say all three could play for UCLA right now.Advertisement
The Balls aren't imported wonders from a distant district. They grew up down the street, so this gym is their park, and that's how they lead this team, with a delightful playground assortment of floor-length passes, unconscionable shots from Temecula, theatrical leaps, cinema swats and relentless running.
The Huskies (34-0) play De La Salle for the state Open Division title Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Chino Hills has tied a state record with 18 100-point games. It smoked traditional Southern California power Mater Dei 102-52, leading 33-6 after one quarter.
It is indeed Showtime, a brand of basketball so uniquely glorious that late in the game, the students unleash an unusual yet appropriate chant.
"Tri-ple-di-gits! ... Tri-ple-di-gits!"
The backyard wonder of a basketball team was formed, appropriately, in a backyard.
Less than a mile from the Chino Hills campus, behind the house in which they have lived since 1996, LaVar and Tina Ball raised their three sons on two basketball goals. One was at the end of a slab of concrete that stretched more than 30 feet. The other, on the side, contained a double rim.
The Ball children learned to bomb on one goal, and swish on the other, and then they would adjourn to a nearby park to run until they had the stamina to put it all together for two hours.
Says Lonzo: "Everything we do on the court, it's second nature to us, we've been doing for years at home."
Says LaVar: "All the battles, all the togetherness, it was all formed right here at home."
In a move that stunned longtime basketball observers, the family has stayed home. In today's basketball landscape, young stars usually transfer from local public schools to wealthy private institutions that supposedly can better showcase their talents, but these parents didn't agree.
"Everybody going left, I'm going right," LaVar says with a grin.
Ball is a large man who grew up in a close-knit South Los Angeles community, once played basketball at Washington State and was a member of a couple of NFL practice squads. He knows the value of sports, he knows the strength of neighborhoods, and he and his wife decided their sons should have both.
"I'm saying, the school is right around the corner, that's where we're going," he says. "If you're really that good, they will find you, doesn't matter where you are. If you can find a seven-footer in Africa, you can find my boys off the 71 in Chino Hills."
Ball was adamant that not only his boys stay home, but that they stay together.
"I want to keep them together because, like I told them, if you don't take care of your brothers, who will?" LaVar says. "They've been together since babies. They love each other, and they play together like it."
With the addition of 14-year-old freshman LaMelo to the team, this is the first year that all three have played together at the high school level. Add starters Elizjah Scott and 6-9 freshman Onyeka Okongwu to a group that plays virtually the entire game, and the results have been astounding.
The Huskies won their season opener against San Bernardino by 89 points. They scored at least 100 points in four of their first five games. In one game they scored 85 points in one half.
"It's been a dream come true," says coach Steve Baik, who changed his system to fit the Balls' talents.
When asked if he cringes when they attempt the 40-footers or circus alley-oops, he smiles.
"They shoot those shots in practice, and they make it," he says. "What we do in our games we do in our practices. I love their confidence."
More than anything, Baik says, he loves their humility, and who can blame him? The only thing more impressive than Chino Hills' domination is that it occurs with such grace and class. There is no gesturing, no taunting, no celebrating.
One Ball brother will throw a floor-length pass to another Ball brother, who will throw a no-look pass to another, who will nail a 35-foot fadeaway jumper, and while the gym shakes from the screaming crowd, the expressionless boys simply run to play defense.
"Playing the game you love, with the people you love, it's a joy to do it every day," Lonzo says. "But we also understand that we're playing for school, for our community, for something bigger than ourselves."
Source : http://www.montereyherald.com/article/zz/20160323/NEWS/160327662