Basketball: Lithuania 'hyped' to greet Ball teens

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 04 2018 12:40 AM

Basketball-crazed Lithuania on Wednesday welcomes LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball, the two youngest sons of flamboyant Los Angeles entrepreneur LaVar Ball who recently made headlines due to a feud with US President Donald Trump.

The teenagers will make their pro career debut in the Vytautas club, ranked last in the Lithuania basketball league and located in the small southern town of Prienai, population 10,000.

The contract has sparked interest on both sides of Atlantic.

Basketball is dubbed the second religion after Catholicism in Lithuania, a Baltic EU state of 2.8 million that is ranked number five in the world.

"It was shocking news not just in Lithuania's basketball community but also worldwide. At first I thought it was fake news, fake Twitter account or whatever," basketball analyst Donatas Urbonas told AFP.

The club, tied for last place in the 10-team Lithuanian league, called the contract a commercial experiment, and most analysts are cautious about the teens' realistic prospects in the game.

The younger brothers of Lonzo, the star rookie point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, will play more minutes in the less competitive Baltic League, with their debut likely next Tuesday.

"Most of the journalists are hyped on their arrival, but not actual playing. We all understand that this deal is not about basketball at all," Urbonas told AFP, hours before Ball family is expected to land in the capital Vilnius.

- Town 'got Balls' -

A scrolling red LED sign on a restaurant in the host town exclaimed "PRIENAI GOT BALLS!!!!!" ahead of the brothers' arrival. They will shoot hoops in the nearby 1,500-seat gym.

"We were told they eat only pizzas and burgers. We have both so we don't need to change much," says Jaunius Malisauskas, the owner of TangoPizza.

Locals are hoping the Ball deal will put their town on the map.

"Nobody knows where Prienai is. Maybe now they will," 49-year-old construction worker Rimantas Bisliukas added.

Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius also offered a warm welcome to the teens who will live just across the river in a luxury spa hotel in the resort town of Birstonas.

"Looking forward to watch you playing in #Lithuania – the temple of #Basketball – Ball Brothers! Definitely winning destination!," Linkevicius tweeted.

LaVar Ball, the flamboyant father of the teens who calls himself the "Big Baller", became famous by getting into Twitter feud with US President Donald Trump.

In November, Trump accused the outspoken Ball of being ungrateful for his personal help in getting LiAngelo returned to the United States from China, where he was arrested along with two UCLA teammates for shoplifting designer sunglasses.

"It wasn't the White House, it wasn't the State Department, it wasn't father LaVar's so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence - IT WAS ME," Trump tweeted.

"Just think LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you," Trump continued, before calling the Ball patriarch an "Ungrateful fool!".