With the Ball family, it’s tough to tell what’s real and what’s an exaggeration. Lavar Ball, the father, says his kids are going to be the NBA’s next superstars. We roll our eyes, then we watch Lonzo, the certain NBA lottery pick and explosive point guard for UCLA, and we start to think the dad isn’t so off base. We see LaMelo Ball, the youngest of the three brothers, point to the half-court line and take a shot. We roll our eyes — and then he swishes it.
Tuesday night, LaMelo might have given us the best headline fodder so far. The high school sophomore scored 92 points in a game. According to this extremely detailed page, he’s the first player to score at least 90 points in a high school game since 2005.
Some of us saw 92 points and had our eyes pop out of our heads like cartoon wolves who just saw a pretty cartoon lady wolf. Others had “a serious problem” with it.
The history of high school players putting up obscene point totals is odd. Sometimes, it’s done by superstars: Three of the past four women to score 100 in a game were Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller, Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie, and two-time WNBA All-Star Epiphanny Prince. It’s understandable that these superstars might go off for a ton of points when facing off with regular 16-year-olds.
Others are unknowns. On one strange night in 2001, two players managed 100 points: Dajuan Wagner, who went on to be a top-10 pick in the NBA draft, and Cedrick Hensley, who went on to average 4.3 points per game for the University of Houston. Hensley played for a small school in Houston, and his coach got upset when the local newspaper didn’t even list the box score.
The last person to score 100 points in a game was a player for a small Armenian high school in Los Angeles in 2003. He was named Tigran Grigorian, and his 20-year-old head coach had no idea people would get upset at him for letting one of his players score 100 against a mismatched opponent. He never played college basketball. The last player to score 92 points in a game was Henry Uhegwu in 2002, and he played a season for Southern Utah, one of the worst Division I teams, and followed that with professional stints in Hungary and Colombia.
LaMelo Ball is obviously really good. We can tell that by his genes and his ability to score 92 points in a game. UCLA chose to offer him a scholarship when he was just 13 years old. Maybe the Bruins saw the 5-foot-10 child as a prodigy, or maybe they just hoped offering him a scholarship would secure the elder Balls.
But “really good” is a sliding scale. 247Sports ranks him as the third-best player in the nation in the class of 2019 and the best point guard. However, 247’s composite ranking, which uses an algorithm to weigh rankings from other services, has him as the 93rd-best player in the class and 19th-best point guard. Scout, one of the services in that listing, has Ball as only a three-star prospect, not even a blue-chipper.
Part of this is the standard difficulty of ranking talented children who aren’t yet fully grown, but part of this is the unique situation provided by the Ball family. While most elite prospects get moved to prep schools that serve as factories for basketball stars, Lavar chose to enroll all three of his kids at Chino Hills, a regular public school with no history of elite prospects.
The school serves as a strange petri dish, an experiment in how good one family can make a basketball team. Last year, our Danny Chau wrote about the Balls and Chino Hills’ preposterous up-tempo offense, a system designed to highlight the family’s talents. Last season the Huskies scored 100 points in 18 of their 35 games, even though high school games are just 32 minutes long. Lonzo averaged a 23-point triple-double; the middle brother, LiAngelo, averaged 27 points per game. And most importantly, the team went 35–0, winning a national championship.
Technically, somebody besides Lavar Ball was coaching the team, but as Chau wrote, the style was meant to be roughly identical to the one Ball used while coaching his sons in AAU ball. And after the season, the school’s coach, Steve Baik, resigned and was replaced by one of his assistants.
This season, there seems to be an increased focus on gaudy numbers, if such a thing is possible. LiAngelo has had games with 65, 72, and 60 points this year. That’s normal for this team and these brothers. Sometimes Chino Hills plays other powerhouses — its first loss of the year came last week against Oak Hill — but most of the time, it plays regular high school teams — the type of team that Chino Hills used to be — and the Balls get to ball.
Tuesday night, the opponent, Los Osos, was one of those teams. And LiAngelo was out with an ankle injury. That meant that this team, engineered to highlight the brilliance of the three Ball children, had only one of the siblings.
The game started out normally, as you can see in the highlight reel. Ball plays defense, and makes passes, and generally looks like a talented player on a floor with less-talented players. He had 29 points by halftime, because he is incredible.
Then something switched — as Lavar Ball tells it, “I unleashed him.” Ball scored 41 points in the game’s fourth quarter, more than five points per minute. He stopped playing defense, and his teammates started selling out for turnovers. They didn’t seem to care whether the result was a steal or an opposing basket — they were actually outscored 44–43 in the final period — but they succeeded at either forcing quick turnovers or allowing quick baskets before launching the ball to Ball on the other side of the court.
The college basketball single-game scoring record belongs to a player named Jack Taylor, who scored 138 points for Grinnell in 2012. What’s notable about his performance is that it was the result of a concerted effort to put up a huge amount of points for the purpose of headlines. Grinnell’s coach would wait until a game against a massively inferior opponent and play a full-court press with four guys while Taylor didn’t play any defense, allowing for insanely quick possessions at both ends of the floor.
Grinnell pulled its 100-point trick because it’s a Division III team in search of attention to attract more interest in its program. LaMelo Ball doesn’t need more attention: He’s a UCLA commit playing for one of the best high school teams in the country.
But the Ball plan isn’t merely to be successful: It’s to be successful and have people talking about you. On both fronts, the plan is working.