NBA Draft Recap: Lonzo Stays Home

LiAngelo Ball (left) and his older brother Lonzo Ball early in the 2014-15 season at a tournament. Growing up, the Ball brothers attended one NBA game but now Gelo will be able to see his brother play for the Lakers while he plays at UCLA. Photo: Ronnie Flores.

The Los Angeles Lakers select Chino Hills product Lonzo Ball at No. 2 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft. There are four California products chosen in the first round on Thursday in Brooklyn and there were some notable second round selections as well.    

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The Los Angeles Lakers have been mired in mediocrity ever since recently retired superstar Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon in April of 2013. The team is hoping its fortunes will begin to point in the direction of another NBA championship with the drafting of Lonzo Ball as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Ball, of course, is the transcendent 6-foot-6 point guard who led the NCAA in assists last season as a freshman (7.6) at UCLA one year after leading Chino Hills to the 2016 FAB 50 mythical national title after a 35-0 season in which he set a single-season state record by recording 25 triple-doubles.

Obviously, the Lakers have plenty of work to make inroads on the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, but Ball could be the Lakers’ first superstar point guard since Magic Johnson led the Showtime Lakers to five NBA championships in the 1980s. Magic had a big hand in drafting Ball as the Lakers’ current GM and wants the Lakers to play a fast-paced game.

Magic was the No. 1 pick of the 1979 NBA Draft, one spot ahead of David Greenwood, a senior forward out of UCLA who was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls lost a coin-flip to the Lakers for the draft rights to Magic. Ball is the highest drafted UCLA player since Greenwood, who turned out to be the highest drafted players from the 1970s Verbum Dei (Los Angeles) dynasty.

An interesting note as the Lakers enter a new era: none of the previous stars on its championship teams were homegrown products. Elgin Baylor was from Washington, D.C, Jerry West from West Virgina, Wilt Chamberlain from Philadelphia, Johnson is from Lansing, Mich., Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from New York City, James Worthy from Gastonia, N.C., Shaquille O’Neal was an Army Brat who moved around as a youth, and Bryant is from Ardmore, Pa.

Maranatha grad Tyler Dorsey has an excellent opportunity to make the 2017-18 Atlanta Hawks roster. Photo: Nick Koza/sportsamp.com.

Jamaal Wilkes, who is from Santa Barbara High School in 1970 (and the 1969 Cal-Hi Sports State Player of the Year at Ventura), was the 1975 NBA Rookie of the Year for the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. He eventually played in three NBA All-Star games, including two for the Showtime Lakers even though he wasn’t the focal point of the dynasty.  The closest thing to a homegrown star the Lakers have had over the years was 1961 Ca-Hi Sports State Player of the Year Gail Goodrich of L.A. Poly, who like Ball went to UCLA. As a territorial draft choice of the Lakers in 1965, Goodrich played about 15 minutes per game and averaged 7.8 points and 1.6 assists. Magic and the coaching staff are expecting much more out of Ball as a rookie.

A lot has been made about the comments and actions of Lavar Ball, Lonzo’s outspoken father who averaged 16.9 ppg as an all-league senior forward at Canoga Park High School in 1985. Lavar created the Big Baller Brand as his eldest son gained national prominence and was vocal about his desire for his oldest son to play for the Lakers. His actions have been great for an industry desperate for good sound bites and clicks as traditional journalists continue to lose jobs left and right, but at the end of the day for the Lakers it was about Lonzo’s talent on the court and his potential ability to uplift teammates that led to the decision to draft him at No. 2 behind Markelle Fultz of the University of Washington and famed DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md.

There were a record 16 college freshmen taken in the first round of this year’s draft, including Kansas’ Josh Jackson at No. 4 to the Phoenix Suns. Jackson began his high school career at Consortium College Prep in Detroit before playing two seasons at Prolific Prep in Napa. He’s actually a graduate of Justin-Siena High in Napa, where Prolific Prep players take their academic courses and is being counted as a California player for NBA alum lists. That academy-type program doesn’t play CIF schools (so Jackson can’t be eligible for all-state), but you can bet California will lose some potential NBA players, and also gain a few, in the future because of the influx of talent at non-traditional programs. Jackson was the No. 1 player in our final 2016 Cal-Hi Sports Hot 100 over Ball, and some felt he is the most talented player in this draft class and a value pick for the Suns. 

The next Californian taken was Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson of Capital Christian in Sacramento at No. 17 to the Milwaukee Bucks. At No. 18, Ball’s freshman teammate at UCLA and Foothills Christian of El Cajon product T.J. Leaf was taken by the Indiana Pacers.

The last time California had more than four products taken in the first round of the NBA Draft was in 2009. All-NBA player James Harden (Artesia, Lakewood) was chosen No. 3 overall, DeMar DeRozan (Compton) was No. 9, Austin Daye (Woodbridge, Irvine) was No. 15, 2008 Mr. Basketball Jrue Holiday from Campbell Hall of North Hollywood at No. 17 and Etiwanda’s Darren Collison was taken at No. 21 out of UCLA.

Ivan Rabb, the 2015 Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Basketball out of Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland, was chosen in the second round Thursday night, No. 35 overall, by the Orlando Magic after his sophomore season at Cal. Rabb would have been a teammate in Orlando of 2013-2014 Mr. Basketball Aaron Gordon (Archbishop Mitty, San Jose) but his rights were traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. Many felt Rabb was a cinch lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft one season out of high school.

Former Long Beach Poly shot-blocker extraordinaire Jordan Bell off the NCAA Final Four team at Oregon was taken at No. 38 by the Chicago Bulls. He was promptly moved as well, sold to the Golden State Warriors for compensation.

Rabb was chosen as the state’s top player in 2015 over Ball (then a junior) and senior Tyler Dorsey, who was chosen at No. 41 in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks. Dorsey was Bell’s teammate at Oregon and was the 2015 Division IV State Player of the Year at Maranatha of Pasadena after helping St. John Bosco of Bellflower win the D2 state title in 2014.

Rounding out the Golden State products in the 2017 NBA Draft were power forward Ike Anigobu of Corona Centennial and UCLA and small forward Jabari Bird of Richmond Salesian and Cal. Anigbogu went a bit lower than expected (No. 47 to the Pacers where he could join his travel ball and UCLA teammate Leaf) because of concerns about his medical report and Bird went No. 56 to the Boston Celtics.

Ronnie Flores is the managing editor of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at ronlocc1977@yahoo.com. Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlorest


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