LaMelo Ball Went from Playing in Lithuania at 16 to Becoming a Top NBA Draft Prospect
At 16 years old, LaMelo became the youngest American player to play overseas. And he turned that exposure in Lithuania and Australia into stardom with the Charlotte Hornets, who selected the guard with the third overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft.
A young LaMelo Ball
The youngest of three basketball-playing brothers, LaMelo Ball has always gone up against older competition. As a freshman at Chino Hills, he was the starting point guard on an undefeated team ranked as the country’s No. 1 high school squad.
Going into his sophomore year, LaMelo’s game had improved. With Lonzo off to UCLA, he and LiAngelo were the two dominant players at Chino Hills. LaMelo had a breakout game in which he scored 92 points, and attention started to shift his way.
He wasn’t even a junior in high school yet, and he was selling out gyms. After that sophomore season, LaMelo’s dad, Big Baller Brand founder LaVar Ball, decided to do the unthinkable and pull him out of high school to play overseas with LiAngelo.
LaMelo Ball in Lithuania and Australia
The brothers signed with Prienu Vytautas in Lithuania.
Despite the accompanying hype, LaMelo and LiAngelo didn’t necessarily receive as much playing time as expected. Instead of showcasing their skills against older players, they struggled to get off the bench with consistency.
Fortunately, LaMelo said the experience — strange as it may have been for a 16-year-old to play international basketball instead of attending high school classes — helped him grow in the long run.
“I grew up a lot, and after doing that, I felt I could go anywhere,” he said, per GQ Australia.
After finishing his high school career at Spire Institute, LaMelo went back overseas.
This time, he decided to join the National Basketball League in Australia and play for the Illawarra Hawks. An older, more mature prospect, the guard showed off his basketball IQ and made the most of his size (6-foot-7, 180 lbs) while receiving far more playing time. He began to cement his status as a top prospect heading into the 2020 NBA Draft.
Over 12 games during that 2019-20 season with the Hawks, Ball averaged 17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.6 steals while shooting 37.5% from the field and 25.0% from three-point range. His shooting clearly needed plenty of work, but the upside was blindingly obvious to draftniks and NBA scouts alike.
LaMelo Ball became the No. 3 overall pick in 2020
After Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman came off the board to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors, respectively, the Charlotte Hornets pounced. They selected Ball at No. 3 overall, leaving him just shy of becoming the highest-drafted Ball brother at the expense of Lonzo (No. 2 overall in 2017).
LaMelo found immediate success, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2020-21 while averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 6.1 assists for Charlotte. He only got better as a sophomore, making his first All-Star squad, though his 2022-23 efforts were derailed by a fractured right ankle that ended his season after just 36 appearances.
The 22-year-old’s stock still has plenty of room to soar, but he’s already come a long way since his days riding the pine in Lithuania.