Late night with Lonzo Ball started shortly before 3 a.m. Los Angeles time on Tuesday.
The prized UCLA freshman had ventured halfway around the world to make his Bruins debut against Sydney University as part of his team’s three-game, late-summer tour of Australia.
Ball entered the exhibition game halfway through the first quarter. The 15-hour flight from home and massive time difference didn’t appear to leave him the least bit snoozy during UCLA’s 123-76 romp.
Ball threw alert passes. He showed active hands on defense. He energized the sellout crowd with a couple of one-handed dunks.
There also were the expected first-game gaffes from a player who had averaged a triple-double during his senior season at Chino Hills High. Ball missed six of nine shots and couldn’t connect on an alley-oop pass from Aaron Holiday. He finished with nine points, four assists, two steals and two blocks.
Ball also was upstaged a bit by his fellow freshmen. Power forward T.J. Leaf led all scorers with 21 points on 10-for-18 shooting and snagged nine rebounds. Forward-center Ike Anigbogu showed some might inside with two consecutive dunks in the third quarter and finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
The influx of talent, not to mention vitality, was desperately needed for a team coming off a 15-17 season in which it lacked leadership and noticeably sagged in the final weeks.
“Outstanding, all three of them,” UCLA Coach Steve Alford said of his freshmen on the Australian Sports Network broadcast. “We have a good mix because our veterans are hungry from what happened last year. … You put three freshmen in that mix of high talent, and if we stay healthy, we’re going to be a good team.”
UCLA might have faced a tougher challenge traversing the 440-foot-tall Sydney Harbour Bridge on Monday than it did facing badly outmanned Sydney University. Bruins guard Isaac Hamilton collected 18 points and nine assists, and Holiday nearly logged a triple-double with 10 rebounds, nine assists and eight points.
The next two games might not be nearly as lopsided because they will come against professional teams. UCLA will face Melbourne United on Saturday and the Brisbane Bullets on Monday before returning home.
Both games will be played early in the morning Los Angeles time, giving Ball and his teammates more opportunities to work on their night moves.
“It’s really about concentrating on us and what we want to get out of it offensively and defensively,” Alford said. “I thought this was a tremendous start.”