FULLERTON, Calif. — One night after his star freshman’s father guaranteed a national championship during a mid-game TV interview, UCLA coach Steve Alford insisted he’s neither surprised nor upset.
Alford said after Friday’s 82-71 victory over Nebraska that Lavar Ball’s high standards and loud-mouthed bravado have brought out the best in eldest son Lonzo Ball and his UCLA-bound younger brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo.
“That’s Lavar,” Alford said. “That’s what makes Lavar special. That’s what he’s demanded out of all three of his boys, and that’s excellence. At UCLA, we’re trying to achieve excellence. We may not get to that point, but we’re going to do everything we can.”
Lavar Ball made his proclamation during the second half of UCLA’s 99-77 rout of Portland in the opening round of the Wooden Legacy tournament on Thanksgiving night. He told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman that he expects to see the Bruins celebrating in Phoenix this April amidst a blizzard of confetti.
“I’m going to tell you right now before you see it,” Lavar said. “UCLA is going to win the NCAA championship. You think I’m playing? Right here and right now. Guaranteed. Come see me when they win it.”
Nobody who has spent any time around the big-hearted but big-talking Lavar was at all surprised by his bluster. Lavar made similar boasts about his sons as they evolved into high-major Division I prospects and then teamed to lead Chino Hills High School to an undefeated season and a California state title last winter.
This is a man who had his sons play against kids up to five or six years older than them during grade school to prepare them for tougher competition. This is a man who correctly predicted last fall that Chino Hills would not lose a game. This is a man who has described Lonzo as “Magic with a jumper” and who says he once told his son, “Somebody’s got to be better than Jordan, why not you?”
Of course, Lavar’s unusual brand of parenting has worked for Lonzo. Ball, a potential NBA lottery pick known for his pinpoint passing, unselfish style of play and uncanny court vision, is averaging 16.6 points and 9.4 assists so far this season. The 6-foot-6 point guard is also as soft-spoken as his father is loud.
“I’m thankful for him,” Lonzo said with a chuckle Friday night. “That’s how he is — loud and always to the point.”
Fourteenth-ranked UCLA looked a bit shy of title-caliber Friday against a Nebraska team projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. The Huskers (4-1) closed to within two on a Glynn Watson 3-pointer with 9:26 to go before the Bruins (6-0) managed to pull away to set up matchup with Texas A&M in Sunday’s title game of the Wooden Legacy Tournament.
Keeping Nebraska’s guards out of the lane was an issue for UCLA as Watson and Tai Webster combined for 46 points. With UCLA’s big men out of position because they kept having to provide help defense, the Huskers were also able to grab 17 offensive rebounds.
UCLA won anyway because of an explosive yet unselfish offense that has broken 100 three times this season and has yet to be held under 80 points. All five starters scored in double figures led by Bryce Alford’s 18 points and Lonzo Ball’s 13 points and seven assists.
“We’re a good team,” Steve Alford said. “We’re trying to become a great team. We’re not there yet. We’ve got a long, long way to go. But I love this team. They’re very coachable. They’re good people and they love the game. If that leads to something special down the road, these kids will be deserving of that. But I think they’d be the first to tell you there’s a lot of work to be done yet.”
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