The Ball brothers’ first game in Lithuania was everything we hoped it would be.
In a capacity standing room only packed gym of about 1,500 people, with journalists from around the world, in the tiny Lithuanian town of Prienai, the Ball brothers, LiAngelo and LaMelo, combined to score 29 points in their professional basketball debut.
With parents LaVar and Tina Ball sitting courtside, 19-year-old LiAngelo scored 19 points, and his younger brother, LaMelo, finished with 10 and had several no-look assists to lead Prienai Vytautas to a 90-80 victory over the Zalgiris’ team.
“I did all right,” LiAngelo said. “I’m glad we won, but I could do better.”
Vytautas, a team that withdrew from the Baltic league days after the brothers joined the team, announced it would form the Big Baller Brand Challenge, a series of five “friendly” games. Vytautas normally plays in both the Lithuanian and Baltic leagues, with the Baltic featuring lower-level competition that also involves teams from Estonia and Latvia.
Zalgiris’ second-division team featured the top under-18 players from the elite program in Lithuania. While LiAngelo acknowledged that he “wasn’t expecting [the game] to be so physical,” LaMelo said he didn’t think there was a big difference from American basketball.
“Not a lot,” LaMelo said. “Just another game to me.”
Tuesday night’s game was broadcast live on Facebook and had more than 120,000 viewers at times.
“As long as we [are] winning and playing like this, this is gonna be fun,” LaVar said.
LiAngelo started and struggled with his shot in the first half, making just 2 of 9 shots before the break. He was far more efficient coming off the bench in the second half, finishing 8-for-19 from the field, while playing much of the time with his 16-year-old brother on the floor.
LaMelo came off the bench in the first half and didn’t waste any time before misfiring on a 3-pointer from NBA range and getting a few assists, including one to his brother.
In the second half, just seconds after checking in with 4:30 left in the third quarter, LaMelo took another deep 3, which barely grazed the rim. On the next possession, he drove the left baseline and wound up making an acrobatic basket on a reverse layup. He finished 4-for-10 from the field with nine assists and six turnovers.
“I think I passed, led and played defense well,” LaMelo said. “My shooting was off, but we won. That was the main thing.”
The team’s next game is Saturday night in a Lithuanian league contest at Lietkabelis, but it’s unclear how much playing time the Ball brothers will receive since the game counts in the standings.
The announcers were amazing. These guys deserve a ton of credit for announcing the entire game for hundreds of thousands of people in what I can only assume is their second language (let’s see American announcers try to call a game in Lithuanian), but it led to some hilarious moments. They seemed particularly fascinated by the antics of LaMelo Ball, who was doing stuff like this all game:
A small sampling of the announcers’ reactions:
After LaMelo’s first shot: “His shooting technique is quite weird, but he can score the basket.”
After LaMelo tried to dunk but ended up laying the ball in: “He scores almost a dunk.”
After a fancy LaMelo layup: “Lamelo Ball adding some spice to his layup. It’s not fun to make it simple.”
After a wild, Steph Curry-like 3-point attempt: “The shot selection is really good.”
After an ill-advised 3-point miss: “Oh my God, Melo. You don’t want to do that.”
Here’s hoping these guys call every one of their games.
The Lithuanian dancers
The Lithuanian dancers were great. Remember the weirdly provocative dancers in the NBA 2K series? They used to be a lot more prominent than they are now, thank god, but every time out 2K had these polygons doing dances and it went on FOREVER. Lithuania sort of did that — but instead of being scantily clad they were in dresses. And they were dancing in style, too. To be fair, they were really good, but they seemed to have their own little mini concerts within the game.