In what may be yet another publicity stunt for the Big Baller Brand, Lavar Ball has announced that two of his sons will be playing professional basketball for the Lithuanian professional team Prienu Vytautas. LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16, have each signed one-year contracts and are set to begin their foray in the Lithuania League (LKL) and/or Baltic League.
The LKL is the topflight hoops league in Lithuania but many scouts believe that the brothers will play in the Baltic League. The Baltic League is a less competitive league that Prienu Vytautas also participates in. The Ball brothers are leaving behind the opportunity to play at the collegiate level to compete in a professional basketball league that falls well short of the caliber of the NBA. While the Baltic League provides a less challenging environment than the NBA, both LiAngelo and LaMelo are likely to suffer growing pains as they played their last meaningful minutes at the high school and AAU level. The Balls will now be going up against grown men who are more experienced and physical than the competition that they are used to.
Several American players have spent time in Lithuania and their recollection has not always been positive. In an interview with Yahoo Sports former Wisconsin guard Ben Brust described the country as, “the worst possible place they could have picked”. He went on to describe the unforgiving climate associated with the northern European country; especially the cold temperatures and lack of extended daylight hours.
Specifically, Brust stated, “There are only like 5 or 6 hours of sunlight every day, and you’re in a gym for half of it.” In addition to the contrasting climates of Southern California and Lithuania, there is a stark difference concerning the cultures which becomes apparent when considering entertainment and cuisine. Brust remembers driving over half an hour just to find American food.
In an interview with Bleacher Report, Billy Baron, another American player, described his time in Lithuania as “going to practice and back to the hotel.” The consensus of a few American players who spent time in Lithuania is that the Ball brothers will last only a month overseas. However, it’s possible that the Ball brothers’ experience in Prienai, Lithuania may provide an effective way to avoid the distractions created by Lavar. The lack of distractions could provide LiAngelo and LaMelo with ample time to improve upon their skills.
Perhaps their time spent in Lithuania could allow them to follow in the footsteps of players such as Jonas Valanciunas and Zydrunas Ilgauskas who made the transition from the LKL to the NBA. “They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country. I hope they’re going to like it,” Valanciunas said in a post-game interview. “Sure. The sky’s the limit. They go out there, they’re sure they can play. […]We have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good. So they choose a really good school.”