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LaMelo Ball's long basketball journey to soon reach the NBA

LaMelo Ball has played around the world, from high school in California to pro ball in Australia. At some point, he'll finally play in the NBA. The coronavirus pandemic has completely rearranged the league's schedule, which normally would have teams opening training camp about this time. Instead, the Lakers and Miami Heat are preparing to start the NBA Finals and the draft, already delayed twice, is currently scheduled for Nov. 18.

The virus has played havoc with the draft process, changing the way players interview and work out for teams. It's one of the obstacles in the strangest season in NBA history, but Ball doesn't mind. “I kind of like how it’s just, like, first time we’ve ever seen it, it’s all unique, because I feel like I’m like that, too,” Ball said Monday.

If he's not the best prospect in the draft, the 19-year-old Ball is certainly the best-known. He and his brothers were thrust into the spotlight largely through their outspoken father, LaVar, as older brother Lonzo was preparing to be drafted in 2017. LaVar made it clear then he wanted Lonzo to be drafted by the Lakers, who did take him with the No. 2 pick, and envisioned a sneaker dynasty with his Big Baller Brand.

Neither exactly happened. Lonzo Ball didn't become a star in Los Angeles and was dealt to New Orleans in the deal for Anthony Davis, but the basketball was still more successful than the business. LaVar isn't as loud now and LaMelo isn't always listening when he does make noise, such as when he said his son wouldn't be the right choice for Golden State with this year's No. 2 pick because the Warriors already have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in their backcourt.

“I’m my own man, he’s his own man,” Ball said. “So, he has his opinions and I have mine.” Ball's opinions are that he could fit in with the Warriors, the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have the No. 1 pick, or anybody else in the NBA. Perhaps that's why the guard seemed so disinterested in who might be interested in him, with the New York Knicks as the only team he confirmed he or his representatives have talked to during the process.

Wherever he ends up, it will be the next stop in what's already a lengthy basketball journey. Like many players, Ball figured when he was younger that he would follow the normal career path, from high school to college to the NBA. Instead, his route was high school, professional, prep school, professional.

His father pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School in California, and he and brother LiAngelo played for a club team in Lithuania. After that short-lived stint, where LaMelo struggled against players much older, he returned to the U.S. and eventually to competing against players his own age when he played a year at SPIRE Institute in Ohio.

With college no longer an option after signing with an agent and playing professionally, Ball then signed on with the Illawarra Hawks of Australia's National Basketball League, where he averaged 17 points, in 12 games before his season ended early because of a bone bruise on his left foot.

“Honestly, I feel like that helps a lot,” Ball said of that experience. “I feel like that’s how I am now, with like any team that picks me I’m good, because just being over there is just a whole different world, something you’ve got to see.”

Ball, who is listed at about 6-foot-7 or 6-8, and 180 pounds, has certainly shown he has the ballhandling and shooting range to be one of the top picks. He also has grown physically bigger since he first showed up on the international basketball radar. He conducted his media interview Monday on Zoom from inside a weight room where he had been working out.

Those will all serve him well later this year, when his basketball odyssey finally reaches its anticipated destination. “It’s just a whole lot of stuff I’ve been through to make me who I am today,” Ball said.

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