The London Lions lost the Big Baller London Clash to a Lavar Ball coached BC Vytautas 110-127, thanks in part to a combined 83 points from the Ball brothers in a packed Copper Box Arena on Monday.
The main event for most fans was the seeing the much-hyped Ball brothers, but London saw a returning son in the form of Jordan “Fresh Prince” Spencer who joined up with his old side for the exhibition.
Spencer, an NCAA National Champion with Augustana University, made an immediate impact for the Lions and will have done nothing to hurt his stock with clubs across the world as he electrified the crowd en route to 32 points and 8 assists.
Spencer enjoyed being back home, “It was good to play back in London where it all started. The experience was great, I wouldn’t change it. It was fun. “
Spencer will being going pro next season and is a highly sought after young player. “I’ve signed an agent. It’s early for Pro teams but around May or June, I’ll know where I’m playing next year. I gotta make sure I’m ready for that next step.” on Lavar Ball “He’s had the plan and he’s done well with it.”
Lions owner and Head Coach Vince Macaulay didn’t hold back when talking about Spencer pregame. “watching this young man’s career has been such a fulfilment for everyone. I thought this would be great. It shows our intent to bring him back into the fold next season. We’re putting in the groundwork, he knows we want him but all of Europe wants him.”
There was a big game atmosphere around a nearly full Copper Box from the outset with the celebrity hoopers playing the Lions with both sides well represented in the stands.
The Lions took the opportunity to hand a debut to 18-year-old youth product Aaron Badibo who impressed in limited minutes finishing the game with 5 points and 4 boards, including a two-handed jam that got the arena on its feet. Hackney player of the year enjoyed his debut, “It was kind of nervous at the start but after I made a few shots it was okay.” On facing the Ball brothers, Badibo was impressed “I think they were quite good, they would shoot it from everywhere.”
Cory Dixon continued his exceptional form with a dominant paint performance finishing with 25 points and 20 boards as he prepares to face his old side Plymouth on Wednesday.
Despite the excitement of the Balls and the fabulous play of Jordan Spencer, the play of the game went to new Lions recruit Jonathan Thompson who stunned the crowd with an incredible Jordan-Esque dunk from a baseline cut.
The game itself was best summed up by WBBL star Ashley Harris “It’s a great environment to be in right now, it’s definitely a three-point competition right now.”
The Lions led at the first intermission 30-28, thanks to three made threes from Justin Robinson in just 5 minutes of work before he was forced off the floor. The MVP candidate rolled an ankle early in the first quarter and would not return, Lions coaches are confident Robinson will be healthy for Wednesday’s clash with Plymouth and sat him as a precaution.
Lavar Ball: “It was a good place to be today…it was perfect.”
Dixon was putting on a dunking clinic on his way to 10 first-quarter points whilst LaMelo got 13 points on the board with 3/9 from three-point land. The second quarter was just as tight with the visitors holding a one-point lead at halftime. LaMelo added another 16 points to his total whilst LiAngelo started to find his form making two threes and getting points inside. The story of the quarter though was Jordan Spencer who turned heads as he sunk 7/9 from three on his way to 25 points in the quarter.
Lavar Ball is brash, but he backs it up. Despite being up by just one point, when asked at halftime what they need to change to win the game his response was classic Lavar, “Oh, this game is already won.” It turned out he was right as the Lithuanian outfit kicked on well in the second half killing off the contest but playing high tempo treating the fans to some exciting basketball from both sides.
Quarter number three ended with the Lions trailing by 9 points thanks to a breakout quarter from LiAngelo and 8 points from Kervin Bristol, who along with the Ball boys played all 40 minutes of the contest.
The final quarter saw the Lions rotate their bench players in and favour youth as Vytautas extended their lead. LiAngelo added 12 points to his tally, but the contest had long since ended. LiAngelo finished the game having gone 17/42 from the floor with 8 rebounds.
Lavar Ball’s side built their victory on pushing the tempo. “We gonna keep doing what got us that lead, we gonna keep running. We keep doing what we do and we play defence.” Lavar Ball said post game.
With extremely aggressive transition play, Vytautas would typically gather a rebound before hitting a long pass up the floor with the receiver either going inside alone or kicking out for a three-pointer. This is their style of play and it was tremendously effective, once young LaMelo, just 16 years old, got his eye in he was passing up the floor with accuracy taking numerous defenders out of the game whilst he was doing so.
LiAngelo Ball finished with 44 points despite a very shaky start shooting wise. “I’m a shooter, I always put shots up like that, today, unfortunately, I missed some but that’s how I play, I usually make those so it’s no big deal.”
Lavar Ball said of his NBA Draft bound son, “LiAngelo missed a lot of little easy ones, that puts up 150. He’s a shooting guard and he’s gonna keep shooting he ain’t got no conscience. He’s a shooting guard, you take a lot of shots.”
Where LiAngelo performed well was inside where he was able to get buckets, before he found his stroke from outside finishing with 5 made threes from 14 attempts.
It was the performance of his younger brother LaMelo which got heads turning. Whilst clearly an incredibly raw talent, he impressed a number of players and fans with his confident performance and his three-point range and ability to make shots under pressure from defenders. Question marks naturally abound regarding the 16-year-old particularly on the defensive end as he rarely got back on D especially late in the game but going forward LaMelo looks to have a lot of the tools to take his game to the next level.
The Lions also gave a runout to Moreno who has helped the Lions down the seasons behind the scenes. Moreno only played 1:28 but it was clearly a great experience for him, and he showed flashes of what he could do. Vince Macaulay explained his debutant’s journey “He used to be a great player back in his younger days, I wanted to give him a gift, he used to practice with us when we had no one when we had four players.”
Lavar Ball is relishing the chance to return to the city he played American Football for. “We definitely coming back to London, no three or four years we’ll be back soon. It was a good place to be today…it was perfect.”
Vince Macaulay summed up the day perfectly, “It’s about having a bit of fun”.
The Lions return the serious work of the BBL Championship on Wednesday evening as they host the Plymouth Raiders.