Lonzo Ball remains humble, focused amid fanfare
Lonzo Ball gets attention
The first setback of Lonzo Ball’s freshman year involved not wins and losses but whites and colors.
The UCLA point guard loaded his laundry into the dryer instead of the washer.
“I had to do it all over again,” Ball said Wednesday during the Bruins’ season-opening media availability.
It could be worse. The arrival of Ball as part of a heralded freshman class that also includes forward T.J. Leaf and forward-center Ike Anigbogu probably ensures UCLA’s season won’t have a rinse-and-repeat feel after the Bruins went 15-17 a year ago.
Ball has gotten many college transitions out of the way, like traversing hills for 25 minutes to reach class. He said the celebrity treatment had subsided among classmates since his arrival but expected a possible recurrence as UCLA nears its season opener Nov. 11 against Pacific at Pauley Pavilion.
Getting swarmed by fans may not be the only thing familiar to Ball. Bruins Coach Steve Alford said he wanted his team to play a frenzied pace similar to the one Ball enjoyed during an undefeated senior season at Chino Hills High.
“Actually,” Ball said of his new coach, “he tells me to push it faster than what I’ve been pushing it, so I have no problems.”
The 6-foot-6 Ball displayed his passing skills during a practice drill in which the Bruins tried to score five full-court baskets in 27 seconds. They did it, with more than a second to spare.
UCLA senior guard Bryce Alford called Ball “probably the best passer I’ve ever played with along with Kyle Anderson,” the former Bruin who now plays for the San Antonio Spurs.
Steve Alford, a former Mr. Basketball in Indiana who was also an Olympian at age 19, has tried to help Ball deal with the hype. The phenom was surrounded by dozens of autograph-seeking fans during an Australian exhibition tour this summer in which his name was chanted.
“For someone who has that kind of hype around him, he does an unbelievable job of handling it and keeping himself humble,” said Bryce Alford, who will be able to focus more on shooting with Ball as the team’s primary distributor. “He works as hard as anybody I know.”
Ball said he was focused on defense and learning how to come off screens, the latter skill something that became an apparent need after he averaged eight points and made only 25 percent of his shots during the three exhibition games in Australia.
UCLA’s loss to a professional team was a result Ball had not experienced in more than a year but something Leaf faced three times last season while going head to head in high school against Ball.
“Just being on the other end of that and being able to play with him and winning a lot,” Leaf said, “it’s a lot of fun already.”
Ball said he had spoken to Russell Westbrook, a five-time NBA All-Star with the Oklahoma City Thunder who had arrived at UCLA amid considerably less fanfare. The conversation served as a reminder of the mindset Ball wanted to keep.
“Just basically play like you haven’t made it yet,” Ball said. “I haven’t made a name for myself yet, so I have to go out there and prove myself.”
Times Staff Writer Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
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