The time has finally come for LaMelo Ball. He will hear his name called in the 2020 NBA draft. Some project Ball to be the No. 1 overall pick. Only time will tell now if that does happen. There’s another player who will hear his name called in the draft, and that is Onyeka Okongwu. Ball and Okongwu played together at Chino Hills High School before Ball left the school.
Now the two will be a part of the same draft class and will soon start their NBA careers.
LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okongwu won a state championship together in high school
As freshmen, Ball and Okongwu were two key players on the Chino Hills basketball team that won the CIF Open Open Division state title. Chino Hills finished with a 35-0 record and was considered the country’s best basketball team. Ball and Okongwu had impressive seasons their freshman year. Okongwu averaged 7.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks, and Ball averaged 16.4 points and 3.8 assists. The two were named MaxPreps National Player of the Year.
Okongwu finished his high school career at Chino Hills while Ball went the professional route. During his junior year at Chino Hills, Okongwu led his team to the CIF Southern Section Division I and CIF Division I championships. He averaged 28 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks as a junior. The talented big man was named California Mr. Basketball and earned USA Today All-USA California first-team honors. Okongwu won the California Mr. Basketball award for the second consecutive year during his senior year while averaging 27 points, 11 rebounds, 4.3 blocks, and four assists.
While Okongwu was still in the states for his high school career, Ball was playing overseas. In 2017, he and his brother, LiAngelo, teamed up together in Lithuania and signed with Prienai of the Lithuania Basketball League. After playing in Lithuania, LaMelo played in the JBA, a league started by his father, and then he returned to high school to finish his senior year at Spire Institute.
Okongwu played at USC while Ball played in Australia
Ball and Okongwu took different paths after high school. Okongwu decided to stay in California as he attended USC. He immediately made an impact in his freshman year at USC. During his freshman year, he became the first USC player to record a double-double since 2006. He finished the season leading the team with 16.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. Okongwu was named to the first-team All-Pac-12 and the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team.
Ball decided to go overseas again after his senior season at Spire. This time he went to Australia to play for the Illawarra Hawks of the NBL. Through 12 games, he averaged 17 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists, and he was named NBL Rookie of the Year.
From former high school teammates to future NBA players
Okongwu and Ball started their high school careers playing together on the same team and had a lot of success. Fast forward to 2020, and they will both hear their names called in the NBA draft. In an article from lonzowire.usatoday.com, Okongwu talked about his relationship with LaMelo and the Ball family during a media call before the NBA draft.
“I’ve known the Ball brothers since I was 10 years old,” he said. “I remember me and ‘Melo used to watch Chino Hills play all of the time. Definitely playing with them my first two years of high school was fun. Playing with them, I learned how to rebound the ball a lot, block a lot of shots, rim-run. All of the things I learned from my first two years of high school really translated to the rest of my life playing basketball.”
Okongwu developed a strong relationship with LaMelo when they were growing up, and now the two will have the opportunity to live out their dream. “I’m just happy for LaMelo to be where he is at right now,” Okongwu said. “LaMelo is a good kid. He has been to so many different places in life, he’s only 19 years old. I’m just happy he was able to live out his dream just like me and be an NBA player.”