I remember writing a similar post a few years ago about one of the biggest villains in recent UK history, Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss. On the one hand, Henderson was a complete knucklehead, outspoken, and easily hateable. On the other hand, he was a decent player. Would he have been a “star” at Kentucky, of course not. Would he have seen a decent amount of minutes at UK, yes. As it turned out, UK actually dominated Henderson in most of their meetings and because he played for Ole Miss and wasn’t an NBA prospect, Henderson quickly came and went in our minds.
Lonzo Ball is a whole different animal. This guy will be at the forefront of the basketball landscape for the next 10 years or more. He is a great talent. Say what you want about how Fox dominated him the NCAA Tournament, I think Ball will be a very capable NBA player. He has the size and court vision of an elite point guard. And while he has an incredibly ugly looking jump shot, it goes in. I don’t see him being a bust.
So what I like to wonder, in a hypothetical sense of course, is what if Lonzo Ball had went to Kentucky? Let’s get a couple undeniable facts out of the way:
- Lonzo Ball would have been an amazing player at UK. He would have been another in a long line of great Calipari point guards. I would much rather have had Fox, but Ball would have been a star here too.
- Lonzo Ball was never an issue on or off the court. There is not a single anecdote out there about Ball being a bad teammate, poor worker, difficult to coach, or of questionable character.
- Lavar Ball would have been just as much of a loudmouth here as he was at UCLA. It wasn’t Steve Alford’s fault and Cal wouldn’t have been able to stop somebody who wants to talk and be as ridiculous as Lavar.
So back to the original question: If Lonzo Ball had played here, how would we view him and the entire circus surrounding him? There are a couple ways I could see it having gone here and maybe fans would have fallen into all of these categories:
- REJECTION: UK fans wouldn’t care how good Ball was, his father would make it impossible to support his kid in the pros. Calipari, for the first time in his career, would also basically reject the kid, wouldn’t tweet about his NBA accomplishments, hug him at the draft. The fanbase would choose character over winning.
- LUKEWARM SUPPORT: Yeah his dad is a fool but the guy can play. We basically turn a blind eye to the antics off the court and recognize how much Lonzo brings it on the court, plus he’s a good kid, so we support him (just not his dad)
- ALL OUT SUPPORT: Hell yeah his dad is cocky. This fanbase is cocky. We love the bravado. In fact, that’s the type of guy we love. Kentucky is only for some people, and those people are Lonzo and Lavar Ball. And bring the other Ball kids too (only if they can play).
One thing I am sure of is John Calipari would never consider taking on a hassle like Lonzo/Lavar Ball. Sports parents can be problems at all levels and I am sure Cal has dealt with some whoppers. But Lavar Ball is the King Moron and Cal ended up with the better player anyway.
But my question isn’t about Cal. My question is about the fanbase. If we had a player with Ball’s talent but also Ball’s baggage, would we love him as much as we love the Anthony Davis, John Wall, Karl-Anthony Towns type player. Because Lonzo Ball could potentially be as good as those guys. And I think UCLA will absolutely own him as one of their own if he does.