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UCLA’s Lonzo Ball wants to generate more than hype

Lonzo Ball, seen here playing for Chino Hills High last season, averaged eight points in his first three exhibitions with UCLA, which were played in Australia.
Lonzo Ball, seen here playing for Chino Hills High last season, averaged eight points in his first three exhibitions with UCLA, which were played in Australia.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

One word followed the UCLA basketball team on its recent exhibition tour of Australia, from Sydney to Melbourne to Brisbane.

“Lonzo! Lonzo! Lonzo!”

The chants reverberated even though the point guard had never played a collegiate game.

“Lonzo! Lonzo! Lonzo!”

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They persisted even though he made only 25% of his shots and averaged eight points in three games.

“Lonzo! Lonzo! Lonzo!”

The Lonzo Ball era got off to a loud, if somewhat uneven, start late last month. Six Bruins players averaged double figures in scoring during the team’s three-game exhibition tour and the prized freshman from Chino Hills High wasn’t one of them.

Ball averaged eight points and made only four of 21 three-pointers (19%) while playing against one collegiate and two professional teams.

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Players and coaches from the UCLA basketball team at the Sydney Opera House.
Players and coaches from the UCLA basketball team at the Sydney Opera House.
(UCLA Athletics )

The numbers have already been forgotten, but the purging of nerves amid the hysteria may be something that helps Ball in November once he starts playing in games that count.

UCLA Coach Steve Alford, who knows a thing about hype as Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, who went on to win a national championship with the Hoosiers, tried to help ease Ball’s transition by providing a reminder.

“I want to make sure he doesn’t lose the concept of what I’ve always enjoyed about Lonzo -- just have fun,” Alford said this week. “Because when you’re having fun and you’re playing loose, there’s nobody better on the floor.”

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There were occasions when Ball flashed the playmaking skills that are expected to immediately make him one of the best players in the Pac-12 Conference, if not the nation. He zipped passes and elevated for dunks to help the Bruins win two of three games against the Australian teams.

The 6-foot-6 Ball also showed the ability to defend larger wing players, giving UCLA flexibility it didn’t have last season. Another positive was the continued development of Aaron Holiday at point guard, which will help Bryce Alford play more at shooting guard.

Players and coaches from the UCLA basketball team prepare to surf on the Gold Coast.
Players and coaches from the UCLA basketball team prepare to surf on the Gold Coast.
(UCLA Athletics )

Alford made a team-high 13 of 24 three-pointers (54.2%) in the three exhibition games even while shooting behind the FIBA arc, which is nearly a foot beyond the college three-point line.

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Freshman forwards T.J. Leaf and Ike Anigbobu also looked like immediate impact players, with Leaf averaging 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds and Anigbobu averaging 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds. Steve Alford said Anigbogu, who also blocked four shots, gives the Bruins the rim protector they’ve been missing in recent seasons.

One of the highlights of the trip came when doctors cleared guard Prince Ali to shed the brace that he’s been wearing since suffering a serious knee injury in July. Alford said Ali was on track to return in November.

Alford said he was also encouraged by forward Gyorgy Goloman’s play after a knee injury that had sidelined him for 16 weeks last season robbed him of lower-body strength upon his return.

“He’s back playing the way he was playing a year ago,” Alford said.

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UCLA hopes the same can soon be said of Ball, who averaged a triple-double while leading Chino Hills to an undefeated season and a state championship.

Players and coaches from the UCLA basketball team pose on the Gold Coast.
Players and coaches from the UCLA basketball team pose on the Gold Coast.
(UCLA Athletics )

ben.bolch@latimes.com

Twitter: @latbbolch

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