The first time Lonzo Ball did a Pull-Up, he was 4 years old. By the time he was 12, he was bench pressing and sprinting up hills a mile long. And when he finally reached Chino Hills (California) High School as the basketball team's starting point guard, he unleashed almighty hell upon his opponents.
Now a freshman at UCLA, Ball has the Bruins polishing a shiny 9-0 record that's helped them ascend to No. 2 in the nation after waltzing into Lexington and downing the No. 1-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in their own building. Everywhere Ball has been, he's flourished, and it's thanks to a lifelong training regimen based on his father's radical views on how basketball should be played.
LaVar Ball is a mountain of a man, with a booming personality to match. Standing 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, Ball hooped in college at both Washington State and Cal State-LA, then played a little tight end for the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets after he graduated. When his playing days ended, Ball focused his attention on turning his three sons—Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo—into basketball prodigies.
"I started introducing my boys [to working out] when they were 4 or 5 years old, doing Pull-Ups and Dips and hanging on the bars for fun," LaVar said. "They was into it because they would see who could do one, and then the other one would try and do two, and as they got older, they'd say 'Dad, let me go in there, I can do them by myself.' It was like a competition thing for all of them. When you're a young kid hanging out with your pops, it's a game. It's not, 'Oh we have to go work out again?"
When each of his boys reached the age of 12, LaVar began adding free weights to their workouts, with moves like the Military Press and the Bench Press, just like his father did with him as a kid. Five days a week, the three Ball boys were putting in work at home under the supervision of LaVar, and that didn't even include the sprints LaVar had his sons do back and forth up "The Hill," a mile-long incline that spills out into a park near the Balls' home in Chino Hills. Lavar's end game? To have his sons "run like deers" and play a style of basketball that resembles the Golden State Warriors on steroids.
"If you play the game three to four minutes hard with no fouls, that's how you get teams tired," LaVar said. "Sometimes you just let them go, let them score, just so you can throw it down the court and run the other way. They can't take their players out of the game unless you call a timeout. That's how we would do it. Teams would play their hearts out in the first half, and then after that they were done. It's not even about what my boys can do as far as shooting and layups and all that, it's just the conditioning that was so high."
Last season, all three Ball boys suited up for Chino Hills High School for the first time. The results were LaVar's dream morphing into reality. With Lonzo (a senior), LiAngelo (a junior) and LaMelo (a freshman) all on the court at once, Chino Hills blitzed opponents into oblivion. They never stopped running, throwing outlet passes when inbounding the ball off a made basket, pulling up from 30 feet to drain 3-pointers with only seconds off the shot clock and pressing full-court for entire games. The Huskies averaged an absurd 98 points per game last season en route to 35-0 record and the first state championship in school history. Lonzo averaged a triple-double. LiAngelo scored 27.5 points per game. And LaMelo averaged 16.4 points per game as a freshman.
It was all a part of LaVar's vision.
The bodyweight and free weight lifts at a young age? To make his boys strong enough to launch full-court passes and hit 3's from anywhere. The hill sprints? To ensure his boys could run a breakneck pace offense for entire games. Doing all that five days a week? To guarantee his boys would never be outworked.
"If you play a bigger team, and they're bigger and faster than you, the only thing you can do is wear them out and be more skilled," LaVar said. "My boys can keep going like batteries. And then the skill was to be able to shoot from 20-30 feet out. Let's say, you shoot 30 out of 40 2-pointers. But we can shoot 30 out of 80 3-pointers. We gon' whoop your ass."
His boys haven't slowed down. Lonzo is averaging 14.6 points, 9.3 assists and 5 rebounds a game for UCLA. LiAngelo, now a senior at Chino Hills, scored 72 points in a single game last week. He'll make his UCLA debut next season. And LaMelo, who'll become a Bruin in three years, is doing things like putting the ball through his legs mid-air before throwing an alley-oop to a teammate off the backboard.
This is what his boys do, says LaVar. Before Lonzo arrived at Chino Hills, the school was coming off a 17-12 season. Now they're a national powerhouse. Last season, UCLA went 15-17. Now they're undefeated and in the conversation to win a national championship.
"I know what kind of work my boys put in. I also know what type of players they are and what they can bring to the game," LaVar said. "That's why everybody was shocked when I told them UCLA was going to win the NCAA championship. It's not a joke, it's for real. I'm not sending my boys to UCLA just to say, 'Yo, he goes to UCLA.' I know what they can bring to the table, and the fact that they're 9-0, everybody is shocked. I've been watching them play like this for a long time."
LiAngelo and LaMelo still work out with their pops every day, and Lonzo comes home to join them whenever he has a break at UCLA. LaVar's dream has come to fruition, and even its ending has been meticulously plotted out.
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