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Lonzo Ball walks by his father LaVar Ball to greet family members. | Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

Dads of 6 top NBA prospects dish on LaVar Ball, MJ and their sons

SHARE Dads of 6 top NBA prospects dish on LaVar Ball, MJ and their sons
SHARE Dads of 6 top NBA prospects dish on LaVar Ball, MJ and their sons

Turns out LaVar Ball isn’t the only dad hyping his kid before the NBA draft Thursday.

Dennis Smith Sr., owner of a small tow truck company in Fayetteville, N.C., hooked figurative chains to the Big Baller Brand earlier this week and tried to tow BBB off of center stage.

Smith said his son “Junior,” who reportedly recorded a 48-inch vertical leap during a recent workout with the Los Angeles Lakers, is clearly better than Lonzo Ball, expected to be picked No. 2 overall by the Lakers. Both players are point guards.

“Lonzo got to guard Junior straight up, one-on-one? He’s got no chance,” Smith told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m going to tell you that straight up.

“Junior is a dawg. He is a straight dawg. He don’t want to lose, he going to go all out, he’s going to play 110(PERCENT).”

Overshadowed by LaVar Ball all season, Smith and the fathers of five other players projected as top picks in the 2017 NBA draft had their say this week. In part, they talked about the polarizing dad who predicted he would have ”killed” Michael Jordan in a game of one on one and, like LaVar Ball, assessed their chances against Jordan.

Here are the dads and what they said:

Mike Collins

Son: Zach Collins, a 7-foot center who helped lead Gonzaga to the national championship game last season as a freshman.

Occupation: City administrator in Las Vegas.

Athletic background: Played basketball at New Mexico State but suffered a career-ending injury during his freshman year.

On LaVar Ball: “I hope LaVar doesn’t mean everything he’s saying. I’m hoping it’s a lot for show.”

On his chances against Michael Jordan: “The only thing I could’ve done was bully him. I was a bully on the court. But then again, I’d have to try to catch him. I don’t think that would’ve went too well for me.”

Father and son: Michael Collins said he helped instill toughness in Zach.

“He’s got his mom’s heart off the court, he’s got my mentality on the court,” he said. “He’s just going to step on your throat, tear our your spleen and, you know, we can be friends after if you’re not bleeding too much.”

But Michael Collins said he made sure his relationship with with his son went beyond basketball and the two enjoyed off-roading in the sand dunes of Nevada.

“If it’s all about basketball always being No. 1, I think you’re less rounded as an individual and you lose track, in my opinion, on what’s important,” he said. “I think what’s important is doing what you love but keeping it in perspective.”

Justin Tatum

Son: Jayson Tatum, a 6-8 forward who as a freshman at Duke last season averaged 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds.

Occupation: High school basketball coach.

Athletic background: Played basketball for three seasons at Saint Louis University and played professionally overseas for 21/2 years.

On LaVar Ball: “If that’s who LaVar was from the beginning, OK, I get it. But still, this is not AAU or Little League anymore because now (Lonzo) is going into a man’s league and that’s a lot of pressure on an 18-, 19-year-old guy. Any added pressure I wouldn’t want to put on my son by making him a a target.”

On his chances against Michael Jordan: “I’d rather shake Michael Jordan’s hand and learn from him than try to tell him how I can beat him like, you know, some other people do.”

Father and son: Justin Tatum said he ended his professional career overseas so he could focus on working with Jayson and, truth be known, things didn’t always go smoothly.

“There’s only one way to train a kid and that’s going hard and the fundamentals and being tough on them,” Justin Tatum said. “In that early stage, Jayson just wanted basketball to be fun and I looked at it as a business, so we clashed a lot.”

By the time Jayson was 8, his father said, doctors projected he would grow as tall as 7 feet. Justin said he immediately put a premium on ball handling.

“I said, ‘Damn, well I don’t want him to be a post guy,’ so that’s when we started working on his skill set,” he said. “Left hand, right hand. I didn’t let him touch the ball with his right hand for so long.”

The focus eventually shifted.

“What we had to work on was getting the alpha male dog in him, to start scoring the ball and helping his team win the game,” Justin Tatum said. “Once he saw that he was able to do both, that was pretty good.”

Lloyd Jackson

Son: Justin Jackson, a 6-6 wing player who helped lead North Carolina to the 2017 national title as a freshman for the Tar Heels.

Occupation: Commodities trader.

Athletic background: Played two years of basketball at Blinn College in Texas.

On LaVar Ball: “I will refrain from making any comment, but I’m totally different than LaVar Ball, I’ll put it that way. I’m thankful of that, and I’ll leave it of that.”

Once his chances against Michael Jordan: “It would just be an honor for me to meet Michael Jordan.”

Father and son: Lloyd Jackson said he stressed fundamentals with Justin and Lloyd Jackson’s three younger children.

“All of our kids, we would not allow them to shoot 3-pointers if they did not stick with the proper form,” he said. “In this day and age, you can see a lot of little young guys and girls shoot the ball and you can tell they’re not strong enough. Our daughter just got the nod to shoot 3-pointers and she’s 14.

“We’re fundamentally sound. Everybody’s looking at Justin’s game and there’s not a lot of flair. He just gets the job done. We just taught him that way. We taught our kids the fundamentals.”

Life lessons are another thing Lloyd Jackson said he teaches.

“If you were to take a poll of all my kids, my kids would say, ‘My dad preaches a lot,'” Jackson said. “A lot of that just comes from life experiences, mistakes I’ve made, things I want them to avoid, being honest and real with them about life.

“I want Justin to work his tail end off. But at the same time, he’s getting ready to be a married man and I want him to understand what family is. Because that’s the basis of any success I’ve had.”

Aaron Fox

Son: De’Aaron Fox, a 6-4 guard who as a freshman at Kentucky last season gained national attention for dominating Lonzo Ball during their Sweet 16 matchup.

Occupation: Refrigeration and air conditioning repairman.

Athletic career: Played football for two years at East Mississippi Junior College.

On LaVar Ball: “That’s just his way of expressing himself. I don’t see nothing wrong with it. But me, myself, I’d rather lay back, relax and let everything fall into place.”

On his chances against Michael Jordan: No prediction.

Father and son: Aaron Fox, who coached some of his son’s summer league teams, suggested some of his halftime speeches might have rivaled LaVar Ball’s animated halftime speeches.

“Oh, yeah, I give some helluva speeches now,” Aaron Fox said with a chuckle. “If you’re playing sports and you ain’t motivated for it, you’re really wasting your time.”

He also said he was as tough on De’Aaron Fox as he was on the other players after, say, poor rebounding or lack of hustle.

“I’d sit him on the bench a lot,” Aaron Fox said. “That’s the way I had his coaches coach him. I told them treat him like any other player. I kept that big-head thing away from him.

“Just be humble. You be humble and everything will work itself out.”

Mark Kennard

Son: Luke Kennard, a 6-6 wing player who was first-team All-ACC last season as a sophomore at Duke.

Occupation: Commercial lending.

Athletic background: Played basketball at Georgetown College, an NAIA school in Kentucky.

On LaVar Ball: “He’s a good father and I’m sure cares about his children. But, I don’t know, I guess that’s just the way he approaches things.”

On his chances against Michael Jordan: “He would’ve killed me. You know, I might have scored a few buckets on him, but I think he would’ve been OK.”

Father and son: Mark Kennard said he taught his son to dribble with both hands when Luke was 3 and that they worked “Maravich drills” over the years to enhance ball-handling skills.

“Both hands, around the legs, always work with both hands,” Mark Kennard said. “We did that hundreds and hundreds and thousands of times.

“I still tell him I could beat him one-on-one. I don’t think he believes it.”

Does Mark Kennard believe it?

“No,” he replied. “But don’t tell him that.”

Dennis Smith Sr.

Son: Dennis Smith Jr., a 6-2 point guard who was named ACC Rookie of the Year last season as a freshman at N.C. State.

Occupation: Tow truck company owner.

Athletic background: Played several sports growing up, but ended his athletic career after suffering a broken ankle during his senior year of high school.

On LaVar Ball: Relished LaVar Ball predicting the Big Ballers AAU team would beat Dennis Smith Jr.’s team during a tournament in Las Vegas only for Junior’s team to beat the Big Ballers by 18 points.

On his chances against Michael Jordan: “I’d a got killed. And LaVar would too.”

Father and son: Dennis Smith Sr. said he expected more from “Junior” than from his son’s peers.

“We were doing left-hand layups at 6 years old,” he said. “He could handle the ball without walking. I wouldn’t let him walk the ball even though the all other kids were doing it.

“Of course every dad is going to tell you this, but I feel truly that Junior is the No. 1 player in the draft. I mean, as far as skill set, ability to win, I haven’t seen a kid like him. Ain’t no question in the world he should be the No. 1 pick.”

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