Former Wisconsin guard Ben Brust was less than impressed by LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball’s decision to play pro basketball in Lithuania, although it may not have been their own personal decision at all. Having played in the European nation himself, Brust doubts that the transition from southern California will be easy for the young brothers.
The younger siblings of Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball revealed their choice to sign with BC Prienai, a Lithuanian club based in the city of the same name just a week after announcing they would be moving overseas to play professionally.
However, it’s unknown how much their father LaVar, owner of the notorious Big Baller Brand, played a part in the process, as he’s continued to serve an influential role in his sons’ futures in the past. The city of Prienai has a population of only 10,000, and is mainly a scenic part of the country surrounded by forests, lakes, and rivers. It’s about an hour and a half away from the capital of Vilnius, and about 40 minutes from the nearest city center of Kaunas.
Back in 2016, Ben Brust made the move to Lithuania himself after being cut from the Milwaukee Bucks during training camp. After helping lead Wisconsin to the Final Four during his final collegiate season, Brust decided to sign with Pieno Zvaigždės in the Lithuanian League, giving him an experience he’d never forget.
Brust claimed that almost nobody in the 7,500-person village of Pasvalys where his team played spoke English, with the surrounding area having very few cultural similarities to the U.S. Not only did he and his fellow American teammates have to drive a ways to find any familiar food or shopping options, but they also went without many of the team amenities that players are used to relying on in the States.
“My American teammates and I would literally count down the days until we got back to America. It was always cold and dark. There are only like 5 or 6 hours of sunlight every day, and you’re in a gym for half of it. It’s a good basketball league, but there are plenty of other places in Europe that I would much prefer to live,” Brust stated.
After suffering controversy and a suspension for being caught shoplifting while overseas in China, 19-year-old LiAngelo parted ways with UCLA after his father vocalized his displeasure with the way the school handled his situation. LaMelo also converted to homeschool after LaVar became upset when a new basketball coach was appointed at Chino Hills High School, however, the 16-year-old was already in jeopardy of playing college ball considering his dad had already given him his own signature-branded shoe.
“I think they’ll last a month maximum,” Brust said. “It seems like the worst possible place they could have picked.”
Even more uncertainty for the brothers lies behind the team’s coach for which they’re playing. Former Vanderbilt player Billy Baron also played for coach Virginijus Šeškus in Lithuania, and said that he not only has a temper, but speaks very minimal English.
“Same coach there is the one who told me during training camp (through a translator) he wouldn’t play me much my rookie year at Rytas because he didn’t speak English,” Baron tweeted.
The only other American player to serve a stint for BC Prienai was another Vanderbilt guard, Brad Tinsley, who declined to comment on why he left the team after only being overseas for two months. Though Lithuania is known to have some top-tier basketball teams, the Ball brothers are not expected to participate in their new team’s most prestigious games, but rather in the lower-tier Baltic League.