The Ball Brothers signing with BC Prienu Vytautas to play basketball internationally could end up being a smart decision made by the Lithuanian team.
Over the last few weeks, European basketball has been involved in the latest chapter of the “Big Baller Saga.” LaVar Ball, the father of Lakers rookie Lonzo, created this chapter by making some pretty intriguing decisions with his younger sons LiAngelo, 19, and LaMelo, 16.
After dropping the two brothers out of UCLA and Chino Hills High School, LaVar made them sign with agent Harrison Gaines to pursue professional basketball with the goal of getting ready for the NBA draft while playing overseas.
When Shams Charania of The Vertical dropped the bomb on the Ball brothers exploring options to sign internationally, the news made a significant impact in Europe, where fans and insiders started guessing where they could end up.
Apparently, the Ball brothers didn’t have any preferences on what country they would play overseas as their agent started reaching out to teams literally from all around the world, from high-level to mid-low-level organizations, including EuroCup (the second-best European league) clubs Liektabelis and Cedevita Zagreb, and several French and Japanese teams.
BasketEurope, a French basketball website, managed to obtain a copy of the email that agent Harrison Gaines sent teams to present the Ball brothers. From the written email, we can notice that money was not their priority as long as they could play together for the same team.
But despite their low price, a lot of sarcasm emerged regarding their chances to get a professional deal. Lietkabelis head coach (now fired) Arturs Stalbergs turned down the Ball brothers and publicly trolled them (the tweet was later deleted):
Also, it’s important to point out that the Ball brothers have non-European passports, which made their free-agency process even more difficult. As a matter of fact, every league in Europe has roster limitation rules, which means that teams can sign a limited number of non-EU players (in Italy, for example, Serie A teams can sign up to 5 non-EU players, whereas in the A2 League they can sign no more than two non-EU players). This rule was a terrible factor for the Ball brothers because it made impossible to sign with mid- or high-level teams because they use their non-EU roster spots for veteran players who can make an impact right away, instead of using them for teenagers who haven’t shown if they can play in Europe yet.
But all of a sudden, there came the bomb. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news about LaMelo & LiAngelo Ball reaching an agreement to play with BC Prienu Vytautas in Lithuania. This team competes in the LKL, the Lithuanian first division, and the Baltic League, a minor-level tournament. The Ball brothers are expected to show up in January and play in the Baltic League so they can find the rhythm and adapt to European basketball.
At first thought, it sounds like BC Prienu Vytautas won the deal for several reasons. Before signing the Ball brothers, this team had only had one American player in the past decade, Brad Tinsley, but they made the most of the brothers’ low price to bet on them. This seems like a very, very intriguing bet that Prienai can win or leave without losing anything.
First of all, the news on the Ball brothers signing with Vytautas gave so much visibility to the team. I mean, let’s be honest: who, outside of Lithuania, had ever heard of a team called BC Prienu Vytautas? Well, let’s say “not many”. That’s for sure.
Now, I expect this move to make the team earn even more publicity when the Ball brothers start playing. This means that Vytautas might be able to attract more companies regarding sponsor partnerships, as the team’s GM, Adomas Kubilius, noted in an interview with the LKL’s official website:
The director of the club sees it as an excellent opportunity both for the club and the country alike. According to [GM Adomas] Kubilius, the club is now focused on making use of the extra publicity.
The management of the Prienai side is now looking for American companies, who would be interested in becoming a jersey sponsor of the club for a fee of €50,000.
“That is one of our goals,” he confirmed.
You now might be wondering: what if it doesn’t work for the team? Well, in that case, some contract details come into play for Vytautas. As confirmed by the team’s GM, the team has an opt-out clause to terminate the contract after a month if things won’t work, which sounds like a comfortable insurance in case of any issues with the two brothers or, maybe more important, their father, LaVar Ball. Another smart move made by Vytautas is that they will not let the Ball brothers play in the LKL right away. Instead, LaMelo and LiAngelo will be given opportunities in the Baltic League where, as mentioned before, they will try to develop and adapt to European basketball. This would provide Vytautas the opportunity to not compromise their situation in the LKL. Indeed, the team is in the second-to-last position in the LKL, and letting the brothers play without no experience would jeopardize the team’s chances to save itself from the relegation in the Lithuanian second division.
“There is a clause to terminate the contract after a month, so it’s more of an experiment at this stage,” said club’s representative (via LKL.lt). “We committed to giving them opportunities in the Baltic Basketball League. We will have to see about the Betsafe LKL and whether they are good enough to play here.”
In conclusion, almost everybody is intrigued and curious to see the Ball brothers play in Lithuania, and LaVar Ball seems satisfied with his sons’ first professional deal. But, at the moment, it sounds like BC Prienu Vytautas has made the right move, with a lot of publicity coming their way, which is an early first win. Then, if LaMelo and LiAngelo will prove that they can play there, it will be a double win for the team.