Basketball-crazed Lithuania woke up to unexpected news, with Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo signing a contract through the end of the season with Prienu Vytautas, currently tied for last place in the 10-team Lithuanian (LKL) league.
Lithuania is one of the world's biggest basketball hotbeds per capita, and a great deal of curiosity and excitement flowed through the basketball community. That included plenty of memes, GIFs and videos anticipating the clash between enigmatic Vytautas head coach Virginijus Seskus -- known as the "LaVar Ball of Lithuania" -- and the real Ball family.
Funny video going around Lithuania featuring Vytautas head coach Virginijus Seskus, aka "the Lavar Ball of Lithuania" and the real Ball family. pic.twitter.com/F2u0E5VVuv
- Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) December 12, 2017
These types of memes have also been circulating around Facebook in the nation:
Club director Adomas Kubilius gave an interview to the official league website, Betsafe-LKL, shedding light on the negotiation process and the team's goals in signing the Ball brothers. He called the move an "experiment" but sounded hopeful that the teenage brothers "are good enough to play here."
"We saw [fellow LKL team] Lietkabelis publicizing the fact that they have been approached by an agent representing the Ball brothers and we just got in touch with him and put forward the idea of them playing for Vytautas," Kubilius said.
Sport director Vilius Vaitkevicius, who was involved in the negotiations, detailed the club's recruiting pitch: "We just introduced Lithuania, we emphasized that we love basketball, we play in the highest league and we are waiting for an answer."
For now, the Ball brothers are locked in for only one month, as both sides have the option to terminate the contract if all parties aren't satisfied with the arrangement.
"There is a clause to terminate the contract after a month, so it's more of an experiment at this stage," Kubilius said.
LiAngelo and LaMelo are scheduled to land in Lithuania on Jan. 4, with their first Baltic league game currently slated at home on Jan. 9 at Prienai Arena versus Tsmoki-Minsk from Belarus. Fortuitously, the club played a road-heavy schedule early and will enjoy four home games in the month of January in which the Ball brothers will be able to get their feet wet.
Vytautas has an LKL road game versus traditional league powerhouse Lietuvos Rytas scheduled on Jan. 6, just two days after the Ball brothers are slated to land in Lithuania, but the two are not expected to play in that game.
"We committed to giving them opportunities in the Baltic Basketball League (BBL)," Kubilius was quoted saying Tuesday. "We will have to see about the Betsafe LKL and whether they are good enough to play here."
Vaitkevicius reiterated that.
"It is too early to say where and how many minutes they will play," he said. "We'll see how their conditioning is when they arrive. It is too early to tell how they will be used on the court. We will see."
After starting off the season losing their first nine games of the season, Vytautas were on a four-game winning streak that was just snapped Tuesday with a 103-102 double-overtime road loss. The team may be hesitant to tamper with the chemistry it has found recently. The club is known for its fondness for shooting 3-pointers, which may help the brothers adjust to a coach who reportedly does not speak any English and a team that has had only one American on its roster in the past decade (who left after one month).
The move was admittedly made with marketing and business goals in mind, as the club looks to cash in on the fame of the Ball family. Vytautas is searching for a jersey sponsorship, publicly putting forth an early figure of €50,000 (approximately $60,000).
"That is one of our goals," according to Kubilius.
The Ball family was welcomed warmly on Twitter by the foreign minister of Lithuania, Linas Linkevicius.
They are expected to live at the luxurious Vytautas Mineral Spa in Birstonas, located just outside of town, providing for comfortable conditions that should make the transition from Los Angeles to Lithuania much easier.
A level of skepticism exists in Lithuania for how long this odd partnership will last, but the country seems excited about riding it out and enjoying the show, however short it is.