Sour end to NCAA Tournament doesn't change incredible season Lonzo Ball had

Lonzo Ball, one of the most interesting and watchable players in college basketball in the past decade, is CBS Sports’ Freshman of the Year. 

Ball, a consensus All-American, averaged 14.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6.0 rebounds for the 31-5 Bruins. He’s UCLA first First Teamer since Kevin Love nine years ago. Ball was the only player in college basketball this season to average at least 14 points, six assists and six rebounds. 

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Having already declared for the NBA Draft, Ball’s college career is over; he finished 2016-17 with 274 assists, which is second-most in a season in Pac-12 (and Pac-10/Pac-8) history. Ball’s 7.6 assists average was the highest in college basketball among all available players at season’s end. 

WATCH: Lonzo Ball vs. Markelle Fultz breakdown

The 6-foot-6 point guard from Chino Hills, Calif., changed UCLA’s season with his game-changing vision, offensive versatility, funky-release shot and defense-fooling passing ability. In 2015-16, the Bruins finished below .500 and Steve Alford gave back money on his contract amid cries from the fan base for him to be fired. Ball was part of a freshman class that included outstanding power forward T.J. Leaf that flipped the script on UCLA’s season. 

The Bruins earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and lost in the Sweet 16 to No. 2 Kentucky. In that game, Ball was dominated by UK’s De’Aaron Fox, also one of the best point guards in the country. Overall, Ball did not perform at the level we’ve come to expect from him in the NCAA Tournament, but that small sample size, stage notwithstanding, doesn’t detract from the incredible season he put together. 

Ball had eight double-doubles this season. He was an outstanding scorer from 2-point range, shooting 73.2 percent, though most of those shots were near the rim. From 3, he was 41.2 percent. Ball’s effective field goal percentage, which weights the importance of 3-pointers (as opposed to traditional field goal percentage, which does not) finished at 66.8 percent, top-10 in the country. 

He was a program-changing player for Alford. UCLA had the No. 2-rated offense in the country and was top 10 in not turning the ball over. While Ball’s family, particularly his father, garnered many headlines in 2017, it stands to reason that this past season will wind up being the most important and memorable thing the Ball family ever contributes to UCLA. 

The 19-year-old Ball is in discussion for the No. 1 overall pick. He says he’s better than Markelle Fultz, the point guard most agree is the top prospect. At worst, Ball will go fifth in the upcoming draft. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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