LaMelo Ball had an unusual path to the NBA. The 20-year-old point guard became an All-Star for the first time in his career this season but just a few years ago he was far from where he is now.
In 2018 when he was 16-years-old Melo along with his eldest brother LiAngelo signed for a small team in Prienai, Lithuania. The move came as a shock in United States and Europe alike.
The Ball family left Lithuania early, even before the end of the season. During that time LaMelo played 8 games in LKL (Lithuanian Basketball League) and a few exhibition games. He averaged 6.5 points, 1.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 12.8 minutes per game.
This chapter looked more like a reality show, which in part it was, with many doubting whether the teenage point guard can reach the level of the NBA.
Junior Basketball Association was the next stop for Melo before signing another professional deal with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia in 2019. Ball’s season Down Under was the turning point during which he became viewed as one of the top talents of the upcoming NBA Draft.
But it was the few months in Lithuania that left the biggest imprint in LaMelo’s psyche. The perceived difficulties that he faced corrected his attitude going forward, he says.
“Honestly, after Lithuania, I didn’t give a f*ck where I got drafted to. The beds? You roll off to the left, you fall off. You roll off to the right, you fall off. Motherf*cking calves hanging off the bed—not feet, calves hanging off the bed! It was bad, bro. Once you get through that, it was like, I don’t care where y’all put me in. As long as I’m in the States and I got water, I’m good,” Melo says confidently. “That whole shit, bruh—it felt like one big ass night! That shit was crazy. Food was hard to eat out there. Hella cold. Nobody around. That’s pretty much when I just locked in. I’m like, Yeah, I don’t really need too much. Just get it done and grind. That right there was big, I feel like. Sacrifice—you feel me? That’s what I looked at it as.
“The mental shit goes back to Lithuania. Ever since all that, I aint gon’ lie, my mental has been straight. It ain’t nothing you can do. I even sat the bench there. I literally did everything out there.”