As he watches LaVar Ball wage a public power struggle with Chino Hills High School over control of its basketball program, UCLA coach Steve Alford should be pondering one pressing question.
Is this what’s about to happen to me?
Chino Hills has cycled through three basketball coaches in three years because of LaVar’s meddling despite producing a 65-3 record the past two seasons. LaVar grew so frustrated with new coach Dennis Latimore the past few months that on Monday he announced he will home school youngest son LaMelo rather than subject him to two more years playing for a coach he doesn’t trust.
At issue is Latimore’s insistence in running a more traditional system than the one LaVar favors. When playing for Chino Hills or LaVar’s Big Ballers AAU program, LaMelo, a consensus top 20 prospect in the 2019 class, has always had the freedom to leak out in transition instead of focusing on defense and to jack up quick shots at the first hint of space he gets after crossing the mid-court stripe.
Just spoke to LaVar Ball on why he's pulling his youngest son out of HS and home schooling him. pic.twitter.com/nvUprIJnew
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) October 2, 2017
Make no mistake that LaVar is right about one thing. Chino Hills won’t be as competitive or as relevant without the Ball brothers or the other talented players they’ve attracted. Before Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo arrived, Chino Hills never was one of Southern California’s elite’s programs, nor did it play to standing-room-only crowds wherever it went.
But by lashing out at the Chino Hills coaches and prematurely ending LaMelo’s high school basketball career, LaVar is showing what happens when he doesn’t get his way. He has a vision for how his sons will blossom into NBA prospects and he’s unafraid to go to war if the slightest detail isn’t to his liking.
While even LaVar doesn’t have the juice to force UCLA to cycle through coaches, he can make life difficult for Alford if he chooses. LaVar caused headaches for UCLA last season even though eldest son Lonzo was the centerpiece and unquestioned leader of a 31-win team that advanced to the Sweet 16.
UCLA’s 2016-17 season began with LaVar guaranteeing a national title and ended with him insisting starting “three white guys” made it impossible for the Lonzo-led Bruins to contend for a championship. LaVar also repeatedly used Lonzo’s likeness to promote Big Baller Brand items, a choice that suggested the threat of the NCAA ruling his son ineligible didn’t particularly faze him.
It often appeared instead that LaVar valued the publicity and commotion surrounding potential NCAA violations over his eldest son completing his lone season at UCLA without distraction.
Lonzo’s was a transformative talent whose impact on the program made it worthwhile for UCLA to put up with LaVar’s antics, but the ride could be bumpier this season when LiAngelo makes his college debut. LaVar has already insisted that all three of his boys will be one and done in college, yet most scouts view LiAngelo as a more marginal prospect who would be fortunate to crack UCLA’s rotation as a freshman.
What will LaVar do if LiAngelo comes off the bench for UCLA next season behind heralded freshman Kris Wilkes and averages only a few shots per game? Would it surprise anyone if LaVar uses his massive fame to publicly question Alford the same way he has the Chino Hills coaches?
There was a time when appeasing LaVar this year appeared to be Alford’s smartest course of action. That was the only way he could ensure UCLA would eventually get LaMelo, a five-star prospect with prototypical size, vision and skill for a high-major point guard even if he needs to work on limiting his turnovers and improving his shot selection and defense.
But there’s less pressure on UCLA to bend to LaVar’s will now that there is a very realistic chance that LaMelo never plays college basketball. Multiple compliance sources told Yahoo Sports in August that they believe LaVar may have rendered LaMelo ineligible to play in college when the Big Baller Brand released $395 signature shoes bearing his name.
LaMelo’s early commitment is also already making it tougher on UCLA to recruit another elite point guard in the 2018 or 2019 class. Few have shown much interest in going to a school where another talented player at their position is already committed.
Alford must weigh all those factors this season as he decides how best to handle LaVar’s bombast.
There’s no telling what LaVar will do next now that he has shown he’s willing to yank a son out of high school and home school him when he doesn’t get his way.
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