In 2015-16 Chino Hills head basketball coach Steve Baik led the Huskies to a 35-0 season and consensus number one national ranking. That team started three future NBA players: Lonzo Ball (New Orleans Pelicans), LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okongwu. LaMelo and Okungwu were freshmen on that team, and they are now projected lottery picks in Wednesday’s NBA Draft.
Baik spoke with SBLive ahead of Wednesday’s NBA Draft to discuss LaMelo’s role on the 35-0 team as well as his NBA potential.
(Feature photo by Fox Life Visuals)
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SBLIVE: What’s it been like for you to see LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okongwu blossom into lottery picks after coaching both of them at age 14?
BAIK: I’m just so stinking proud of those guys. And, you know, obviously the two had similar journeys. Their freshmen years they were both co-National freshman and we went 35-0. We were national champions.
I knew that they were best friends. I knew that they were ultra talented. There were special factors about Lamelo and Onyeka, but they were babies at the time.
Back then people would walk by LaMelo and not think anything of him. For both of them to end up in the same draft class as high lottery picks, it’s just a really, really fun thing for me to see.
SBLIVE: What was it like to deal with Lavar Ball and the Ball brothers on a daily basis?
BAIK: My relationship with the Ball family went so much further back then than just that one year. I had a basketball camp when Lonzo was in sixth grade, LiAngelo was in fifth and I saw LaMelo when he was in second grade. That first ever season that I got to see them in the summer, it was just, really, really impressive seeing a second grader do what he was doing.
Literally, that first day that I had Lonzo as a sixth grader, I thought that he was going to be in the NBA one day. Gelo was shooting NBA threes and was stronger than any other kid I’d ever seen at that age.
I knew LaVar and Tina and the kids before all the whole world got to see them. And obviously, some things have changed a bit as far as the platform that LaVar has been given. At times he’s going to say things because he’s a marketing genius. For me, I don’t get bothered by that because I know who he is and I know what he’s about. I’ve always rooted for the family because I’ve never seen a family that had such a pure passion to pursue their dreams of the NBA.
The most impressive thing was the daily commitment to that passion. Because for me, I knew that success for a lot of these kids was possible, but the commitment and the dedication was so hard to find. And so for me, when I found that in this family and they happened to have three brothers, it was like a dream come true for me. Here we are now just a week away from seeing LaMelo and Onyeka achieving their dreams of being not only NBA players, but lottery players. It’s unbelievable.
For us to be at a point where the story keeps continuing is really fun to see. It’s amazing.
SBLIVE: In your wildest dreams, did you think that LaMelo was going to be a top five pick?
BAIK: I knew he was going to be an NBA player when he was a freshman even though it’s not like today where most of the freshmen are older. They’re 16 years old. So they’re kind of grown into their bodies and so when you see them as a freshman, it’s easier to project.
LaMelo technically should have been in eighth grade that season. As a 5-10, 120 pound kid, how do you project that this kid is going to be a potential number one pick? But for me, I knew the family, I knew the work ethic, I knew how special LaMelo was as a player in the first second I saw I knew he was special. He was a phenom.
For LaMelo, no one was saying he’s going to be a number one pick in like five years. But I knew that this kid was going to grow to be at least 6-6. So that made it easier for me to project that.
SBLIVE: How do you expect him to perform in the NBA?
BAIK: What’s amazing is how people are questioning his shooting when from what I’ve seen as a coach, I think he’s going to be like a James Harden with his scoring ability.
I think he’s a better passer than most people give him credit for. He’s in that 1% of passers with the Lonzo’s, the Magic Johnson’s, the Jason Kidd’s. If he just focused on passing, he would dominate the game, but his strength is scoring, there’s no question about that. He’s pushing 6-8, which reminds me of James Harden, plus he’s still growing into his body.
His instincts on defense are off the charts. Is he the sit down in a stance lock you down ninety four feet for the whole the game kinda guy? Absolutely not. He’s going to do that at times, but that’s not what he’s going to be known for.
He’s going to make the timely blocks. He’s going to get the key rebounds. He’s going to make the important steals. I mean he’s in my opinion the most talented kid in the draft.
SBLIVE: What was LaMelo like as a freshman that season? Was he timid?
BAIK: There was absolutely nothing timid about LaMelo as a freshman. He was the total opposite. He played against the best of the best on the biggest stage where the gyms were literally overflowing and he felt zero nerves.
Our championship year in practice, we would put him on the second team because he was so confident and we wanted things to get competitive. We had to keep these kids focused and one of the ways to do that was mixing up the lineup. Sometimes he would single handedly beat the first team by himself. At times he would have to shoot these shots that were thirty five footers and he would literally beat Lonzo, Gelo, Onyeka and Eli by himself as a 5-10 freshman.
He had a huge role on our team. He was our secondary playmaker. We knew that Lonzo was going to be doubled, so we put LaMelo on the right wing and he was so efficient with his scoring ability that I would have to call plays just for him that year because I knew that he was guarded by the other team’s fourth or fifth best defender. He played his role perfectly that year for us and what stands out now is just how clutch he was for us. He saved us countless times with his shooting. I don’t remember him missing more than two or three layups that entire season. His efficiency, confidence and clutch scoring was off the charts.