By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — With the ball in his hands on the Los Angeles Lakers’ home court, Lonzo Ball was exactly where he always wanted to be.
Ball’s new Lakers workout gear was soaked with sweat after he went through his individual pre-draft workout Wednesday for Magic Johnson and coach Luke Walton at their training complex. The tantalizing UCLA product left no doubt that he hopes his favorite team chooses him with the second overall pick.
“Of course,” Ball said. “I want to stay home.”
The Lakers have roughly two weeks to decide whether to hitch their franchise rebuilding effort to the 6-foot-6 point guard — and by extension to his outspoken father, LaVar, who didn’t attend the workout.
After enduring the worst four-year stretch in franchise history, the Lakers hope to rebound next fall with their new draft choice alongside fellow No. 2 picks D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. Lonzo Ball is generally considered the front-runner to become the Lakers’ new catalyst, with some analysts even believing he surpasses Markelle Fultz and the rest of the draft pool as the prospect with the greatest potential for superstardom.
Ball doesn’t shy from the responsibility that would come with his selection, either: He plans to be a leader for his NBA team from his first day on the roster.
“They have a lot of good players,” Ball said. “Obviously they need a leader, a point guard, and I feel like I can bring that to the team.”
But every NBA team with a top draft pick is clearly weighing Ball’s talent against the potential perils of choosing a somewhat unorthodox 19-year-old with a heavily involved parent currently trying to sell $495 basketball shoes online. Lonzo didn’t wear Big Baller Brand’s ZO2: Prime shoes for his Lakers workout.
Any potential concerns felt by the Lakers haven’t filtered through to Ball, who was still excited about his getting-to-know-you dinner in Venice on Tuesday with the Lakers’ top brass, including Magic and general manager Rob Pelinka.
“I got positive vibes,” Ball said. “I had a lot of fun. It was great meeting everybody here, and they were very welcoming.”
He was particularly thrilled to meet Johnson, the Hall of Famer now directing the Lakers’ rebuild as their president of basketball operations. The 6-foot-9 former point guard provided the template for Ball’s approach to hoops through LaVar, an ardent Magic fan.
“Magic Johnson is one of the greatest players ever to play,” Ball said. “And I love the way Coach (Walton) wants to coach us, and then Rob is a great dude, too. So just meeting all them, it was a great blessing.”
Ball didn’t say whether he will work out for other teams, claiming he’ll leave it up to his agent. But his visit with the Lakers was his first individual workout, and LaVar has openly voiced his desire for his son to end up with the hometown team for many months.
After growing up 50 miles away in Chino Hills, Ball spent the last year 20 minutes north of the Lakers’ El Segundo training complex in Westwood, where he led the Bruins’ transformation from a regular underachiever into a 31-win team.
Ball is an aggressive, creative playmaker who also had one of the most accurate shots in NCAA history last season, albeit with an unorthodox shooting motion that will never be found in a textbook. Ball said he did “a lot of shooting” in his workout with the Lakers, who undoubtedly wanted a look at that release.
Ball’s detractors question his defensive acumen and his ability to adapt his unusual shot to the pro game, but few doubt his status as an elite facilitator who could thrive in Walton’s up-tempo, Golden State-inspired offense.
Yet the Lakers already have the 6-foot-5 Russell, who has shown flashes of brilliance as the point guard on two bad teams. Walton and the Lakers clearly believe Ball and Russell could share the same backcourt profitably.
Although Ball must wait a bit longer to find out whether his childhood dream will come true, he seemed quietly optimistic about the opportunity after his chance to impress Johnson and Walton in person.
“They said they want me to come in — if I get picked — come in and be a leader and play with a lot of pace,” Ball said. “So the stuff they were saying was very positive, and it kind of fits my game.”
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