There’s no doubt that scoring 92 points in a 32-minute high school basketball game is pretty extraordinary, so what did 15-year-old LaMelo Ball of Chino Hills do when he got home Tuesday night?
“He took a shower, ate something and went to bed,” his father, LaVar Ball, said.
A day after he scored 51 points in the first three quarters and then poured in 41 more in the fourth of a 146-123 victory over Los Osos, debate swirled over whether Ball’s accomplishment should be celebrated or criticized.
“As a coach, if I see a player doing well, who am I to stop his shine?” Stephan Gilling, Chino Hills’ first-year coach, said Wednesday morning.
With LiAngelo Ball, the team’s leading scorer, sidelined because of an ankle injury, younger brother LaMelo was asked to take on an additional scoring load. He took 61 shots.
Los Osos Coach Dave Smith said his team tried everything to stop the onslaught, even triple-teaming Ball. But after the game he called it “a joke,” adding, “It goes against everything the CIF stands for.”
On Wednesday, Smith said, “I told Mr. Ball he has great sons. There’s no animosity on my part about the kids or the Ball family. My problem is what we have done as a society. What we have done as coaches to athletics.
“It’s about integrity and sportsmanship. When only one kid shoots every shot but one in a quarter, that’s not right. That’s not, as coaches, what we’re supposed to do.
“They have a chance to score a layup and they turn and pass the ball out so another teammate can score. That’s not good.”
Ball may have been particularly inspired because Chino Hills (26-1) was coming off its first loss of the season Saturday night, when it had its 60-game winning streak come to an end in a 96-91 defeat by Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill. It was also senior night, and players were dedicating the game to a Chino Hills student who is ill.
“About the third quarter, my dad said, ‘Keep shooting,’” LaMelo said Wednesday during a radio interview on KLAC-AM (570). “If I knew I was going to score that much, I would have shot more in the first half.”
LaVar Ball hinted that there might be similar breakout performances in the future. “The bigger the stage, the better he likes to play. … He’s been scoring like this all his life,” he said of his youngest son.
Middle brother LiAngelo scored 72 points in a November game against Temecula Rancho Christian. Older brother Lonzo Ball had many big games for Chino Hills before heading to UCLA, where he has become a projected top-three pick in the next NBA draft.
“My boys treat this game as entertainment because that’s all it is,” LaVar Ball said. “We’re going to entertain until the clock hits zero. If you pay $8 for a ticket, we’re not going to give you $7.50. I’ve had my boys playing like that since they were babies.”
LaVar said LaMelo scored more than 100 points as a 10-year-old against a junior varsity team.
“I’ve been having him play 17-under youth ball since he was 11,” he said. “This is nothing. He could do it on a daily basis. He loves the game. … He’s only going to get better. He’s not trying to embarrass anybody. He only wants to be the best player, and he’s chasing his brothers.”
“My kids got into the van after playing as hard as they possibly could and scoring 123 points and all they hear is they suck and they can’t guard anybody from adults,” he said. “That’s wrong.
“I felt as a school it was embarrassing to be on ‘SportsCenter’ last night as the No. 1 story. I don’t feel that’s what high school athletics is about.”
Chino Hills has been in the national spotlight since last season, when it went 35-0 and tied the state record for most games scoring 100 or more points with 18.
Former Coach Steve Baik, now the head coach at Fairfax High, remembers receiving criticism for letting the Ball brothers take NBA-range three-pointers and for their rapid run-and-gun style.
“These guys are a special talent,” he said. “Their intention is not to offend anybody. They’re going to do their best. If they want to be in the spotlight, which they do, there are responsibilities.”
And LaMelo seems to be embracing those responsibilities. In a year’s time, he’s morphed from a freshman who engaged in lots of chatter and practical jokes into a determined leader.
“I’m pleased how much he’s matured,” Baik said.
Baik didn’t see the Tuesday night game, but he said, “Obviously, it’s a remarkable feat that a 15-year-old can do such an achievement. I would say 99.9% of high school kids, if you gave them every shot in five games, couldn’t do what he did in one game.”
La Verne Damien High’s Mike LeDuc, who has been a coach for 43 years, said that when a game becomes a rout, “Everybody has their own philosophy what they think is the right way to play the game.”
The options range from pulling starters when the trailing team inserts its substitutes to letting reserves play throughout the fourth quarter. He said his best player, Glendora’s Tracy Murray, once scored 64 points in a state championship game, which made the performance even more impressive.
“I would have loved to have seen [LaMelo’s] production in a competitive game,” he said.
Longtime Westchester Coach Ed Azzam said he supported what Chino Hills and the Ball brothers were accomplishing.
“Whatever they’re doing, it’s working,” he said. “They’re one of the top teams in the country. I don’t have a problem. That’s a lot of points being scored. His brother scores a lot. Lonzo scored a lot. It’s great. It’s entertaining.”
Chino Hills’ next game is Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Rancho Cucamonga High. LiAngelo will not be playing. Could LaMelo go for 100?
“You never know,” Gilling said.