Former NBA player and NCAA national champion Russ Smith, who is now having success in China, shared interesting insight on LaMelo Ball and LiAngelo Ball.
Before he was a champion with Louisville, he was a high-school star. As a junior, he led the New York City Catholic League in scoring and was named to the New York State Sportswriters Association’s All-State team in 2009.
There are some obvious parallels between the 26-year-old and the Ball brothers. Smith told HoopsHype that he has nothing but love for the family and LaVar Ball reminds him of his father.
“I can only respect how they are going to figure their lives out. The kids live a tremendous life,” said Smith. “[It’s] a life a lot of the population would wish to trade for. Shout out to Big Baller Brand and big ups to LaVar Ball.”
Despite his successes, it took Smith time to find his footing as a recent scoring sensation. Much like LiAngelo, Smith was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. At 165 pounds, he was also undersized – around the same weight as LaMelo.
While he only played two seasons in the NBA, he set the record for most points in a D-League game (65) before he moved to Turkey and played in the Euroleague.
Smith knows what it takes to succeed overseas, as he averaged 61.2 points per game in the Chinese National Basketball League (NBL) earlier this year.
Now in China on the Fujian Sturgeons, he is averaging 34.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. If Smith stays in the Chinese Basketball Association, he could soon play in the same league as LaMelo and LiAngelo.
He knows that it would not be an easy transition for the family if the boys play international basketball. While he admitted he is not sure if it will happen, he hopes for the best if it does.
“I’m not worried about their family too much because they seem persistent,” explained Jackson. “[It’s] always a tough time adjusting for anyone. I respect their family big time because their dad makes decisions in their best interest even if the public doesn’t agree.”
Many disagree with the decision to pull LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School and LiAngelo out of UCLA. Now, they are seeking employment outside of the United States – another decision by LaVar that has been questioned incessantly.
According to international basketball expert David Pick, multiple people he spoke with do not think the brothers could play in China due to “recent legal trouble” as well as the “talent gap” between LiAngelo and the players in the CBA.
Smith, who is based in China, does not feel the same way about LiAngelo. He feels confident that if the family helped the community, they would be welcomed back despite the controversial incident.
“China is a very forgiving place,” Smith said. “I feel like if he were to come here and do some positive things as far as camps or a clinic or something, it will all be forgotten as far as China goes.”