CHINO HILLS — A storm is raging, the fiercest Southern California has seen in years, but outside of the Chino Hills High gym on a Friday night in February, hundreds stand in line anyway, soaked but undeterred, their barricade of umbrellas snaking around the building. Some have been waiting in the rain for hours. A few poor souls wander desperately, begging for extra tickets. They were sold out before the day began.
They’ve come to catch lightning in a bottle, to gaze upon a preps phenomenon the likes of which this town — and quite possibly the country — has never seen before. A few years ago, Chino Hills High was a complete unknown in basketball circles — a public school, just a decade old, with a tiny gym and a modest following. But that was before the plan took hold and the nation took notice, before the Ball family and their electric offense, before 35-0, the 60-game win streak and the national title.
“Now, it’s a movement,” says Scout.com analyst Josh Gershon. “Everyone knows Chino Hills.”
The Chino Hills High gym is a charming shoebox of a basketball arena, with a couple dozen rows of wooden bleachers and a standing-room capacity of 1,300 — less than half that of local powerhouse Mater Dei. On this opening night of the playoffs, they’ll need every inch. LiAngelo, the middle of the three vaunted Ball brothers, is set to return and a tightly packed crowd buzzes, whispering of another state championship run.
The ball is tipped, and Chino Hills bursts into hyperdrive. Just four seconds in, LaMelo Ball, the youngest Ball brother, serves up a soaring alley-oop. The crowd gasps. This is Chino Hills in all its high-throttle glory, sprinting past defenders and suffocating lanes, dishing passes behind the back and drilling 30-footers.
During LiAngelo’s recent absence, LaMelo scored 92 in one game. “SportsCenter” called. “World News Tonight” ran a story. In a matter of hours, the 15-year-old’s coronation as an internet sensation was underway. At Chino Hills’ next game, grown men waited outside the gym for autographs. The team left out the back door.
With LiAngelo back, there is no hope of denying them. A slow start against JSerra turns into a 21-0 run in mere minutes. Before long, Chino Hills runs away with a 105-74 victory, piling on until the final buzzer.
“Tri-ple dig-its!” the student section jeers. It’s the 16th time they’ve surpassed that mark this season.
At center court, the architect behind this phenomenon leans forward from his seat in the first row, resting his massive 6-foot-6 frame on his knees and chewing gum as vigorously as the Chino Hills offense moves. Even from a distance, LaVar Ball is an intimidating presence. His gaze, intense and unrelenting, rarely leaves the court.
Everyone here knows LaVar, and nearly everyone has an opinion of him. At a recent road win in Rancho Cucamonga, fans lined up just to snap selfies with him — the man who fathered the Ball boys. TMZ invites him on air, begging for more of the incendiary bravado for which he’s come to be known.
Chino Hills may not have seen this coming — the national acclaim, the autograph seekers, the internet celebrity — but this is exactly what LaVar has envisioned since his three sons were born. For years, he told anyone who would listen of his boys’ impending greatness.