New Article at The Athletic today
The teenagers LaMelo met, whether they were his uber talented teammates at SPIRE, or the students from Ohio’s suburbs, its farms or its big Catholic institutions, they all got to touch fame.
In interviews with about 20 teammates, a few coaches and academy officials from SPIRE, as well as administrators, players, opponents and fans from the schools LaMelo played against in Ohio, The Athletic learned that he was routinely humble, approachable and otherwise not at all like who they thought he would be, based on what they’d seen and heard online.
“He was an exceptionally polite individual,” Orloff said. “Without any question, every single time I saw him he would stop what he was doing, come over, ask me how my day was, whatever. This is the kind of kid he was.”
“You pick up vibes about people,” said Carrington McCaskill, a SPIRE teammate. “He was a cool dude. Stuff you saw that was online, some stuff could probably be judgment. Me actually meeting him, he was cool.”
“I didn’t think he would be that humble, he was real humble, you know,” said Josaphat Bilaut, another SPIRE teammate.
“I feel like his whole life has been crazy, so just for him to come to SPIRE and be in Geneva, Ohio, a small city, a small town, he could just chill and be a kid,” Watts said. “When he was overseas, he was playing with grown men, it was just too much on him and stuff like that. I feel like SPIRE did give him a lot of rest.”
There is a phrase LaMelo’s SPIRE friends throw around when they talk about him. They call it “LaMelo things.”
They use it to describe the carefree moments, like the time he trudged through a foot of snow in Polo pajamas to meet Watts.
“This dude really came outside in some Timberland boots and Polo pajamas, and it’s negative something outside,” Watts said. “I’m like, ‘Bro, you’re gonna keep wearing these pajamas? It’s negative out here.’”
Actually, let’s go back to those pajama pants a moment. LaMelo wore them everywhere. Even to a SPIRE practice. And didn’t take them off.
“And he was still going crazy, still getting buckets,” Bilaut said. “He was like, ‘yo next time I’m gonna come in jeans and give you guys buckets.’ Coach was like ‘Melo, what are you doing, go put your shorts on.’ He was like, ‘nah, I’m straight, coach.’ He started hooping and just doing his thing.”
The SPIRE team would have been really good without LaMelo. Watts, who now stars at Michigan State, once scored 64 points in a game next to LaMelo. Isaiah Jackson, SPIRE’s best big man, is at Kentucky. Myron Gardner went to Georgetown, but off-court trouble led to his departure. The same for McCaskill at Florida Atlantic. Bilaut is at Wichita State. Aundre Polk is at Central Michigan.
LaMelo, who was already 6-foot-7 or close, and was still filling out his body, had more depth to his game than any of his teammates. And for the first time in a while he was playing against boys his age instead of grown men.
“Oh, he cold,” McCaskill said. “Once I started getting into practice, I was like, ‘oh, this dude real. This dude can hoop.’ Just his full game and how he sees things, he can slow the game down and all of that.”
“I’ve never seen somebody shoot it, like pull it from halfcourt that easy,” Bilaut said.
“No doubt he was the best player on that team,” added Reebhu Pal, another SPIRE teammate. “He might not have been the top point scorer every single night. Rocket was really good in that category, but if you talk about defense and passing included, no doubt he was the best player on the floor every single night.”
Kurt Habermehl, the coach at Vermilion, a rural, lakeside community of about 10,000 people that welcomed SPIRE for a two-day tournament, said, “In my 22 years, he’s probably the best, if you want to call it high school, the best high-school passer I’ve ever seen.”
“He could rifle a ball with his left hand or his right hand from 30-feet away, and make it like it’s nothing,” Habermehl said. “I remember him driving down the left side of the floor at about half court, and he did a no-look, one-handed, left-handed pass right to the block for a dunk. I just turned around to my coaches and said, ‘I’m not sure we have anybody who can do that.’ And they just started laughing.”
All the Ohio coaches who faced LaMelo thought he was good, really good, which is what one would expect for the potential No. 1 pick. But they also knew he was playing on a superior team, which meant on any given night they might not have seen LaMelo’s best.
Footage of Lamelo at Spire as a High School Senior