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The Sports Report: Will LaMelo Ball be the first pick of the NBA draft?

LaMelo Ball of the Illawarra Hawks brings the ball up during a game in the Australian Basketball League last year.
LaMelo Ball of the Illawarra Hawks brings the ball up during their game against the Sydney Kings in the Australian Basketball League last year.
(Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Dan Woike on the NBA: LaMelo Ball sat on a couch Tuesday during a videoconference, a cellphone never too far from his hands and his attention never too focused on the questions about his workouts or his future.

“I’m not going to lie,” Ball said. “It feels like another day to me.”

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It probably shouldn’t.

Later today, Ball could be the first selection in the NBA draft. He might be the reason why Detroit or Chicago or New York decide to sacrifice pieces of their future to get him. He might be the next star for Minnesota. But for now, on a Tuesday morning, he’s just a 19-year-old kid with tons of fame, plenty of hype and an addiction to short sentences.

Ready or not, the LaMelo Ball draft is here, the most famous player in a class full of relative unknowns with plenty of question marks, finally about to settle in a place he always thought he’d end up — the NBA.

It will be the first defined destination in a basketball life that’s been a global fastbreak that could be set to a famous Johnny Cash song,

Five years ago, he was a freshman on a state championship Chino Hills High team. Four years ago, he was launching from half court and cherry-picking his way to outrageous scoring figures. Three years ago, he was in Lithuania to play professionally. Two years ago, it was Ohio, where he showed up a private academy. And last year it was Australia to continue a pro career.

It feels like, before he’s even old enough to buy a beer, Ball’s been everywhere, man.

In a year with so much chaos, his nomadic experience has to count for something.

When his name is called Wednesday there will be a new destination. It could even be as the No. 1 overall pick — where he thinks he belongs.

“I feel like I’m just the right man,” Ball said. “… I feel like I’m born for this whole thing going on.”

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NBA Mock Draft 3.0

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USC FOOTBALL

Ryan Kartje on USC football: Munir McClain, the suspended receiver at the center of a federal probe over pandemic unemployment benefits, and his brother, linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain, are leaving USC and will enter the NCAA transfer portal.

The decision comes after a tumultuous few months that fractured the family’s relationship with USC. In mid-September, Munir McClain was suspended from the football team with minimal explanation. Michael Blanton, USC’s vice president of ethics and professionalism, later told his mother, Shan McClain, that Munir’s name came up in conjunction with a complaint alleging unemployment fraud and identity theft at USC.

A month later, federal investigators approached players on campus and asked about the sophomore.

Munir McClain, who applied for and received pandemic unemployment assistance over the summer, maintains that he’s done nothing wrong and that USC has yet to provide a full explanation for his suspension.

The McClain family, along with local civil rights activist Najee Ali, held a news conference last month and demanded Munir’s reinstatement. The university responded with a statement rejecting any notion that the McClains were in the dark.

That dispute quickly eroded what was once a strong bond between the brothers and USC. In recent days, the family’s frustration leaked onto Twitter, where Shan let her feelings be known about coach Clay Helton and his handling of Munir’s suspension.

“They will throw them right under the bus & look the other way & allow them to fight on their own,” Shan said Friday in a tweet. “No Family, Faith, Football.”

UCLA MEN’S BASKETBALL

Ben Bolch on UCLA basketball: The blur could be coming to UCLA basketball.

The No. 22 Bruins have been upping the tempo in practices, maximizing the talents of a guard-heavy team entering a second season under coach Mick Cronin.

“He makes an emphasis on blitzing the ball, which is like just getting it up the court really fast and trying to score within the first eight seconds of the shot clock,” freshman guard Jaylen Clark said Tuesday. “So we’re playing extremely fast this year.”

Don’t expect Cronin to hand out T-shirts that say “Eight seconds or less.” The coach said he doesn’t even use that phrase, though he acknowledged going faster could benefit a team that will often have at least four players on the court who can handle the ball and make smart passes.

“Definitely trying to get some easier shots,” Cronin said, “and pick up our pace of play a little bit.”

PAC-12 WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

Thuc Nhi Nguyen on Pac-12 women’s basketball: If playing in the same conference as five Associated Press top-25 teams wasn’t hard enough, Mark Trakh was dealt another blow when the USC coach learned his team had a positive COVID-19 test earlier this month. Already having gone without summer workouts because of the pandemic, the Trojans had to stop practices again and enter quarantine.

On Tuesday, with eight days until their season opener, the Trojans still hadn’t returned to practice.

“We’re going to choose up sides and play a pick-up game basically [on] Nov. 25,” Trakh said with a smile during the Pac-12 media webinar Tuesday.

With the season approaching, the best women’s basketball conference in the nation is facing an even tougher opponent in the surging COVID-19 pandemic. As cases skyrocket nationwide and many states tighten restrictions, teams are cautiously approaching the Nov. 25 start date and holding onto hope for an opportunity to end the Pac-12’s decades-long national championship drought.

Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer’s No. 2-ranked Cardinal were picked to finish first in both the media and coaches preseason polls released Tuesday. Stanford leads the Pac-12’s five ranked teams, which include No. 7 Arizona, No. 9 UCLA — which was picked fourth in both preseason conference polls — No. 10 Oregon and No. 18 Oregon State.

USC was picked to finish seventh in the conference media poll and sixth in the coaches poll. After the COVID-19 pause, the Trojans are scheduled to resume practices Wednesday, exactly one week before their opener at Galen Center against Loyola Marymount.

ANGELS

Maria Torres on the Angels: Angels owner Arte Moreno wasn’t comfortable declaring during a videoconference introducing new general manager Perry Minasian on Tuesday how much money he intended to spend fielding a team in 2021.

But he was willing to make one promise: The Angels’ payroll will not shrink.

Moreno was on the hook for a franchise-high $194-million luxury tax payroll before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out more than half of the 2020 major league schedule, according to the Baseball Prospectus database. The opening day payroll in July was $71.2 million, the second-highest figure in the American League West Division.

Moreno’s commitment to a hefty budget is good news for the Angels’ new top baseball operations executive, who spent some 30 minutes Tuesday discussing his hopes for the down-on-its-luck franchise he was tasked to lead.

“One of the reasons that this job is so intriguing [is] this is not a 100-loss team,” Minasian said when asked how close the Angels are to winning. “This is not a five-, seven-, 10-year rebuild. This is going to be a competitive club. I think it’s an outstanding mix of veteran players. Some youth on the horizon, and obviously the manager [Joe Maddon] speaks for himself.

“This whole organization is on the cusp of doing some really, really great things.”

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New Angels GM Perry Minasian loves analytics, but plans to rely on intuition, too

DODGERS

Jorge Castillo on the Dodgers: Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger underwent surgery Tuesday to repair the right shoulder he dislocated celebrating a playoff home run last month, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Orthopedic surgeon Neal ElAttrache performed the procedure.

The Dodgers announced Bellinger will begin his rehabilitation process in Arizona next week. He is expected to be ready for the start of spring training.

Bellinger, 25, dislocated the shoulder when he smashed forearms with Kiké Hernández celebrating his go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves. Bellinger popped the shoulder back in place. He was in pain the next day — an off day before Game 1 of the World Series — but didn’t miss a game.

Bellinger had previously dislocated the shoulder multiple times. Most recently, he suffered the injury diving for a ball at first base in May 2019. He missed the next game but returned two days later. He went on to win the National League MVP award.

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THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1962 — Bill Wade of the Chicago Bears passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns to edge the Dallas Cowboys 34-33.

1970 — Joe Frazier knocks out Bob Foster in the second round to retain the world heavyweight title in Detroit.

1974 — Charley Johnson of the Denver Broncos passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-34 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs.

1978 — Vanderbilt’s Frank Mordica rushes for 321 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-27 victory over Air Force. Mordica scores on runs of 48, 30, 6, 70 and 77 yards.

1990 — Monica Seles captures the first five-set women’s match since 1901, defeating Gabriela Sabatini 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the final of the Virginia Slims Championships.

1995 — Iowa State’s Troy Davis becomes the fifth player in NCAA Division I-A to rush for 2,000 yards, reaching that plateau in a 45-31 loss to Missouri.

2006 — Top-ranked Ohio State beats No. 2 Michigan 42-39 in Columbus in the regular-season finale. The Big Ten rivals had the top two spots in the AP football poll since Oct. 15.

2007 — Jimmie Johnson becomes the first driver to win consecutive Nextel Cup championships since Jeff Gordon in 1997 and ’98, wrapping up the title by finishing a trouble-free seventh in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

2007 — Top-ranked Roger Federer wins his fourth Masters Cup title in five years, overwhelming No. 6 David Ferrer 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. Federer collects $1.2 million and a new car for the win, increasing his winnings for the season to over $10 million — a record for the ATP Tour.

2012 — Matt Schaub has a career-high five touchdown passes, completes a franchise-record 43 passes and finishes with 527 yards passing, second most in NFL history, to lead the Houston Texans to a 43-37 overtime win over Jacksonville. Norm Van Brocklin holds the record with 554 for the Rams in 1951.

2018 — Alexander Zverev upsets Novak Djokovic to claim the biggest title of his career with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at the ATP Finals.

2018 — Joey Logano busts up The Big Three and captures an improbable first NASCAR title by soundly beating a trio of champions. Logano wins the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to grab his first Cup championship in a season in which he barely contended until the playoffs began.

And finally

Monica Seles versus Gabriela Sabatini in the 1990 Virginia Slims Championships. Watch it here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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