By Luke I. ’23
Senior guard Lonzo Ball, then #4 high school recruit in the nation, secures a weak side rebound and rifles a pass to his younger brother, LaMelo Ball. LaMelo Ball streaks across the middle of the court and throws a no-look ball to Eli Scott. Scott throws down a two-handed hammer dunk over Mater Dei forward, Marvin Pierre. The gym erupts, Scott flexes as he stares into the camera, and after a few seconds, the camera pans to the scoreboard where Chino Hills leads perennial basketball powerhouse Mater Dei 89-38. Lonzo Ball, LaMelo Ball, Onyeka Okongwu, and Chazz Smith surround Eli Scott. A series of handshakes ensue, Mater Dei throws the ball ahead for an easy dunk, the game hasn’t stopped. No one cares. The video has 9.7 million views today, and was the talk of high school basketball in 2015-16. Chino Hills’ perfect season has many of these moments that have rarely been seen before. Chino Hills Basketball ushered in an era of mixtapes, highlight reels, and viral clips while simultaneously becoming the only team in high school basketball history to have three NBA lottery picks. But first, let’s rewind to the beginning.
Who is the Ball family? LaVar and Tina Ball married in 1997 and gave birth to their first child, Lonzo, the same year. A year after Lonzo, LiAngelo Ball was born, and two years after LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball was born. Three years, three sons, and all were destined for basketball greatness. The trio made their way through adolescence rather unknown until Lonzo Ball burst into the spotlight with a collection of superb junior year summer camp performances that solidified his case as a five star recruit. With Lonzo’s rise in popularity, so too came Chino Hills’ own popularity rise. All eyes turned to watch Lonzo lead Chino Hills in a quest for a state championship. But, when the viewers, analysts, and fans watched Chino Hills play not all eyes were upon just Lonzo. Lonzo may have captivated the audience and rightfully so as he became the only high school basketball player to average a triple double with 23 points per game, 12 assists, and 11 rebounds. However, his brothers were not to be outshined. LiAngelo Ball led the team in scoring with 27 points per game and freshman phenom LaMelo Ball averaged 17 points per game and was named co-freshman of the nation.
In 2016 Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube were all hitting their strides as mainstays in youth culture. These new platforms became the wave of the future, and through these devices teenagers around the world became enamored with the Ball family. Never before had high school athletes been this captivating; it got to the point that I couldn’t go a single week without being asked if I had watched the most recent “Ball in the Family” episode. The hype around the three Ball brothers was unimaginable. But more importantly, they lived up to it. The Ball brothers led the Chino Hills basketball program to its first state championship and secured a perfect record along the way. Lonzo and LiAngelo left to play for UCLA, LaMelo went overseas, and it ended with both Lonzo and LaMelo being drafted with top-3 picks in the NBA draft. But bigger than that, the Ball brothers became icons and poster boys for high school basketball. They put high school basketball on the maps via viral clips, flashy plays, and undeniable hype.
However, not all went right with the Ball family. Shortly after the beginning of his first year at UCLA, LiAngelo Ball was arrested in China for shoplifting, a mistake that resulted in his dismissal from the basketball program at UCLA. LiAngelo then joined his younger brother, LaMelo, in Lithuania where they struggled to succeed against grown men. Additionally, this was a time period in which LaVar Ball, the father of the three sons, was parading around Lonzo’s success in the NBA and appearing on every sports show in town. This parade was quite ridiculous and looked down upon by basketball fans and players alike. Yet through all of these struggles, the world could not stop watching the Ball family as they progressed and changed the game forever.
The dark period for the Ball family slowly faded away as things got back to normal. LaMelo cut his hair, grew six inches, and returned home to dominate the high school basketball landscape once again. LiAngelo continued to perfect his craft which resulted in him acquiring several offers from NBA teams to join their developmental teams. And LaVar retreated from the spotlight in order to better take care of his boys and his ailing wife who suffered a stroke. LaMelo turned down several prominent college offers to play overseas where he dominated and solidified himself as a top draft pick. In 2020, the Charlotte Hornets took him third overall. Sitting beside him were his brothers, mother, and father, who wore an infamous hat that said: “I Told You So,” a remark that referenced how LaVar had known his boys were destined for basketball greatness and had tried to tell the sports public.
Lonzo has become a stellar point guard for the Chicago Bulls, LaMelo was a first-time NBA All-Star this year, and LiAngelo plays for the NBAs developmental league. Onyeka Okongwu, also a part of the 2015-16 Chino Hills Basketball team, was drafted #6 overall in 2020 as well, and the final member of the infamous starting five for Chino Hills, Eli Scott, is a senior forward for Loyola Marymount and is expected to get drafted this year as well. Okongwu and Scott often get overshadowed by the Ball brothers, but they are both capable and accomplished basketball players in their own right. Scott averaged 20 points per game as LMU and Okongwu is a lottery pick in the NBA. These two help round out what is widely considered to be the greatest ever starting five in high school basketball history, a feat many basketball fans expect would come from powerhouses such as Monteverde, IMG, Oak Hill, Mater Dei, or DeMatha. Rather, the title goes to the 2016 #1 ranked high school basketball team in the USA: Chino Hills. So with the age of viral sensations and hyped high school players, let us not forget who put us on this path in the first place; three brothers with undeniable pizzazz.