“I have a lot of respect for him, and he’s supposed to say that. Anyone that’s your competitor is going to think that they’re better,” Fultz told SI Now. “To me, it was just funny. He just motivated me to work harder and be sure I put myself further in front.”
Fultz, who played his freshman season at Washington before declaring for the NBA draft in March, is widely projected to be the No. 1 pick on June 22. Ball, who declared for the draft after his freshman year at UCLA, is often referenced as second-best prospect in the draft.
On March 28, Ball was asked who the better player is. “Markelle’s a great player, but I feel I’m better than him,” Ball told ESPN 710-AM. “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”
Fultz acknowledged his budding rivalry with Ball in the interview with Sports Illustrated and addressed to the chances we’ll see him wearing Big Baller Brand apparel next year – “Over my dead body,” his mother, Ebony Fultz, said. Fultz doesn’t just want to be the No. 1 pick, he wants to win the NBA MVP next season.
Lonzo Ball added one of the largest feathers in his cap on Monday, when he was named an Associated Press first team All-America. UCLA’s point guard is the only freshman on the team.
Kansas’ Frank Mason III won AP Player of the Year, an indication that the Jayhawks point guard may be Ball’s chief competition for the Wooden and Naismith Awards given to college basketball’s top player. Ball and Mason learned on Monday that they’re two of the five finalists for the Wooden Award with AP All-America first-teamers Josh Hart and Caleb Swanigan and second-teamer Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss. Ball and Mason are two of four finalists for the Naismith Award with Hart and Swanigan.
Immediately following UCLA’s Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky Friday night, Lonzo Ball announced he would declare for the 2017 NBA draft.
“That was my final game at UCLA,” he said. “I appreciate all the fans.”
LaVar Ball, Lonzo’s father, maintained before the season even began that his oldest son would only play one season at UCLA. The alacrity with which the Bruins All-America point guard declared his decision was probably an indication Lonzo knew all along.
“I have so many memories, I can’t tell you all,” Ball said. “Started in Australia and at the end of the day, this is a family. We’ll be together for life and I’ve built relationships for life.”
Ball averaged 14.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation-leading 7.6 assists during his freshman season, the only player in college basketball to achieve such numbers.
It has been so long since a pure point guard the likes of Lonzo Ball passed through college basketball, a comparable player is admittedly difficult to find. The one landed on most often as Ball averaged a nation-leading 7.6 assists per game this season is Jason Kidd.
The UCLA freshman could justify the likeness in a way he never has before on Friday night against Kentucky in the Sweet 16. If Ball has seven assists against the Wildcats, he’ll pass the former Cal star for the second-most assists by a Pac-12 player in a single season.
Kidd had 272 assists his sophomore season at Cal. After collecting all nine of his in the second half of Sunday’s second-round win over Cincinnati, Ball has 266.
Ahlon Lewis set the conference record with 294 his senior season at Arizona State in 1998. Avery Johnson, the current Alabama head coach, set the all-time NCAA single-season assist record with 399 at Southern University in 1988.
UCLA’s victory at then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 3 was the Bruins’ signature win most of this season. The only one that may have surpassed it was a road win at Arizona nearly three months later.
Before Tuesday’s practice, Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf promptly dismissed its December triumph in Lexington, KY – at least as it pertained to Friday’s matchup with second-seeded Kentucky in the Sweet 16.
“We’re both different teams right now,” Leaf said. “And the stakes are a lot higher. So it’s going to be a completely different game than the first one.”
Thirty-five games into its season, UCLA is better than it was nine games in. Naturally, a Kentucky team even more freshman-driven than UCLA is also considerably better, according to Ball.
One thing Ball and Leaf agree will be the same is the fast pace. UCLA outran Kentucky in the 97-92 win that snapped the Wildcats’ 42-game home winning streak. The Bruins’ 90.2 points per game make them the highest scoring team in the country. Kentucky isn’t far behind in ninth with 85.2 points per game. It figures to be another track meet on Friday at FedExForum in Memphis.