We all know how it’s going down on Thanksgiving. Family, food and football dominate the day. But there’s another sports offering jumping off after the turkey, mac-n-cheese and stuffing have been devoured and the Itis has come and gone.
If you’re able to catch a second wind, the most entertaining game on TV might not be of the football variety with the likes of the Vikings vs the Lions, the Redskins vs the Cowboys, the Steelers vs the Colts or LSU vs Texas A&M.
If we’re simply talking about pure excitement and the entertainment factor, you might want to stay up and catch the No. 14 UCLA Bruins take on the Portland Pilots in a first round matchup at the Direct TV Wooden Legacy college hoops event, which airs on ESPN2 and tips off at 11:00PM EST.
For some, it might seem like an inconsequential early-season matchup stuffed amid a plethora of holiday tournaments. But if that’s your thought, I guarantee that you’ve never seen UCLA freshman point guard Lonzo Ball play basketball.
In case you haven’t heard, Ball and UCLA, whenever their games are televised, are not to be missed. In their previous game, a 114-77 win against Long Beach State, the freshman point guard extraordinaire scored 20 points and dished out 11 assists. But numbers will never tell the story of Ball’s game.
The most astonishing aspect of his skill set is his vision. The creativity that he brings to the floor cannot be taught, as his passes come from unorthodox angles, and he’s equally adept at delivering them with either hand or both. Watching him play alongside his brothers at Chino Hills High School, where they were named prep national champions last year, I was also struck by the beauty and complexity of his inbounds and outlet passes.
You really do have to see it, experience it in the gym and feel it to understand the depth of his freakiness within the very subtle chambers of utilizing the pass to speed up the game and open up the floor.
He’s not just a child prodigy throwing Magic Johnson-like dimes on a Showtime-esque fast break. Ball is a bulldog on the glass with a nose for the ball who is not afraid to mix it up with the big boys in the paint. He stands about 6-foot-5, but despite being built like Jimmy Walker, he packs a Dy-no-mite punch like Bootney Farnsworth under hypnosis.
And defensively, his footwork and instincts are superb. His length causes problems for opposing offenses and he’ll get his fair share of steals and blocked shots.
And goodness gracious, I’m betting that, if you have yet to get your first peek, you’re going to have visions of Cornbread dancing around the brain once you see him pull up from 35 feet to release a corkscrew jumper from a release point that you’ve never seen before. And as unorthodox as it looks, his ball has a sweet rotation that splashes through the nets more often than not. If you think Steph Curry pulls up from deep, wait ’til you get a load of this guy!
UCLA splashed a school-record 18 three-pointers in their season opener against Pacific and hit 12-for-20 from beyond the stripe against Long Beach State. Seniors Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will feast on opponents this year thanks to Ball’s passing and the mind-boggling ball movement he exerts upon the action.
But the Bruins are far from a one-man show. Ball’s fellow freshman TJ Leaf is averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game while connecting on an insane 73% of his field goal attempts. Alford, Hamilton, Aaron Holliday and Thomas Welsh are all averaging double-digits in the scoring column as well.
But make no mistake about it, Lonzo Ball is the head of the snake and the main attraction in a production that has brought the millennial version of Showtime back to Los Angeles. He’s averaging 16 points, six rebounds and nine assists per game, while making 61% of his shots and converting 44% from deep.
Portland is now being coached by beloved former Trail Blazer and NBA point guard Terry Porter. The Pilots are undefeated and led by their own exceptional floor general, 6-foot senior Alec Wintering, who is averaging 19 points, five rebounds and eight assists per game.
You might flip through this game late at night and decide to pass, but I’d advise against it. Lonzo Ball is the truth, a unique talent unlike any you’ve ever seen before. You better watch him and UCLA every chance you get this year. The UCLA version of Showtime is a one-and-done, so you better get it while it’s hot.
College football and the NFL are what people associate with Thanksgiving. But if you want to have a Ball, you better peep that UCLA vs Portland joint.