By LARRY VAUGHT
Point guard Lonzo Ball of UCLA has had a sensational season but has been slowed by a thumb injury recently.
“I think Lonzo is as close to 100 percent as he’s been in a long, long time,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said Thursday in Memphis. “Lonzo practiced all last week, too.”
That’s big for UCLA. Ball has been sensational in two NCAA wins and Alford knows how lucky he is to have Ball leading the Bruins.
Ball, a National Player of the Year Candidate, leads the nation in assists per game (7.6) and total assists (266). He is averaging 14.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, Ball has recorded 7.60 assists per game, the second-highest single-season average in school history.
“I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been doing this long enough that I’ve had a lot of special players, a lot of great players that I’ve been able to coach and be around. Zo is just one of those elite guys that, not only does he have a phenomenal skill set, but he said it after our game against Cincinnati, that he felt like he had a good feel,” Alford said.
“And I interrupted him in the press conference, and I said, no, no, no, you have a great feel. It’s one of those — I’ve had very few times in a 26-year career where I’ve actually taken a pause in games and said, what do you think? Because I trust him that much, that he has such an unbelievable feel to the game. It’s like, what do you want? What do you want to do defensively here? What do you want to do offensively?
“So that trust factor from coach to your point guard is at a really high level, and he’s just — he’s a teammate — it goes all the way back to like a McDonald’s All-American game. You had guys, Josh Jackson, you had several guys after that that were interviewed saying, who wouldn’t way to play with that guy?
“And our guys top to bottom would tell you the same thing. He’s just a tremendous teammate to play with because he thinks teammate first. And there’s a lot of point guards out there that think teammate first, but they can’t think teammate first and then make that teammate look really good next. He can do that. His passes are on point. His passes are timely. And then his shots that he takes, he’s got a really good feel on when to go to his 3 ball and when to go to the rim, and he’s really improved defensively with his activity as the season has gone along.
“They don’t come around very often, especially at 6’6″, long, athletic, running the point. I think he’s just a very special talent, and a lot of that goes not just because of his skill set but because of how smart he is. He’s a very smart basketball player.”