12. 04. 2020

INTERVIEW: Ball for WoV – “I could’ve played at least 2 more seasons. I wish I’d have“

Source: Photo: picuki.com, fosters.com

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Being the only volleyball player from the nation so good in this sport, such as the American nation, that competed at four Olympics is quite enough to make Lloy Ball “immortal“. But, now a 48-year-old man, wasn’t only a mere participant in the greatest sporting event on the planet. As a setter, Ball was involved in the USA’s triumph in the 2008 Beijing Games, doing it after coming back from retirement.

 

Ball played more than 400 matches with the U.S. Men and served as their captain for a whole decade, collecting more than 400 caps. The same year he won the Beijing Olympics, he captained the country’s national team to clinching the FIVB Volleyball Nations League (FIVB World League at that time). This was all crowned by the awards for the MVP and Best Setter of the latter competition. Note that it’s just a small part of prestigious individual awards Ball has won on the international arena.

His leadership and contribution to volleyball were recognized by the International Volleyball Hall of Fame into which he was inducted in 2015, three years after retiring, following the footsteps of one of his sporting idols - Douglas “Dusty“ Dvorak (another memorable American setter).

Let’s recall some details of his playing career and see what’s Ball doing these days...

In what ways did your father Arnie influence your career and, in general, what was it like playing for your father at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW)?

“My father is the most influential coach I ever played for. He not only taught me the fundamentals of the game but he instilled the competitiveness to compete at the highest level. My father was extremely hard on me at IPFW. He made an example of me all the time so other players knew I would get NO special treatment. It was hard for me to understand why he did that at the time. It seemed unfair. Later in life, I appreciated it because it made me mentally strong. I am doing the same with my children. I hope it works with them as it did for me.“

You had a misfortune to sustain a serious hand injury prior to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship in 1994 when it seemed that IPFW had a big chance to reach the finals after two failed attempts. Looking back at it from this distance, do you regret that you haven’t won the collegiate title?

“Of all my life’s regrets (there are many) that isn’t one. Yes, if I had not played basketball that night and broke my finger, we would have had a better opportunity to win a title. But my father always promoted multi-sport athletes. He knew how much I loved basketball. Many excellent volleyball players won National titles and many of them never had the professional or National Team career I did. In fact, I would say losing that NCAA title in 1994 made me work even harder to prove a was a good player. Things happen in life. How we deal with them define us. Not just the result.“

You were 16 years old when you made your debut for the U.S. Senior National Team, in 1988, being the youngest player ever to compete for it until that moment. What did it feel like being a kid in the U.S. squad?

“Terrifying. I was in high school and all the other players were in college or pros. I was by far the least experienced and worst player on the team. I had to prove I belonged to every play. It hardened me. It put a chip on my shoulder. It started me on the path that I dreamt about since I was 4 years old. I think often of Coach Neville who gave me that opportunity. He took a HUGE risk having me on that team. Thank God he did.“

At which players did you look as role models when you were at the very beginning of your professional career?

“My father was a setter. He is my first and longest role model/hero. Here are some others: Dusty Dvorak - first Gold Medal USA setter. I emulated my hand positioning after him; Fabio Vullo - he made sets that no one could make at that time. I remember a backset (Red) to Steve Timmons when they both played in Italy together. Vullo was at 10 meters and fired one back to Steve in the system. It is still the best set I have ever seen; Bob Ctvrlik - I have never seen a USA player work harder than Bob. I was blessed to play one Olympics with him. He taught me what toughness, perseverance and perfecting your skill looked like.“


 

You felt on your skin how strange the ways of a professional athlete can be. After the 2004 Athens Olympics, you decided to retire from the U.S. National Team but rejoined thanks to the efforts of the head coach Hugh McCutcheon. And then, boom! You won the 2008 Beijing Olympics. How did McCutcheon persuade you to come back?

“He had faith in me. Many coaches tell players what they do wrong. Hugh told me all the things I did right and how those things could lead Team USA to the medal stand. He didn’t ask me to do more than I was able to do. He said, ’You just set our team. Let the other guys do their jobs.’ In the past, I had tried to be too many things. I tried to be the best server, blocker, leader... but in the end, all Team USA needed from me is to keep us in the system and put up hittable balls. So, that’s what I did.“

The U.S. campaign in the Beijing Games was truly memorable, without a single defeat. What are the moments you remember the most from the tournament?

“The first match against Venezuela. Up 2-0, I injured my calf (which had been a problem for me), I came out. We went to 2-2. I knew from experience that losing the first match of the Olympics could be devastating (Sydney Games) so I went back in to mentally help the team win 3-2; Also, the semi’s against my good friends from Russia. We were up 2-0 just like at the World Cup the year before, where they won 2-3. We lost the next two sets but thanks to David Lee, we were able to win in the fifth. I was never worried about the Final. I did not know if we would win, but we were the only team that played well against Brazil. So, I knew we would have an opportunity to win. And that’s all a player can ask for.“

Is there a teammate (or teammates) in your professional career to which you were bound more than to other players, both personally and on the field?

“Clay Stanley. I consider him my best and closest friend that I played with. Ten years on USA team together and 6 years playing pro with him. He and I had a special connection on and off the court. He is a great player. But he is a better man.“

What are you most proud of when you recap your career and also, are there things you regret for in your career, or the things for which you can say: I could have done them better?

“My three favorite moments: 1. Winning the CEV Champions League Title with Kazan. I have 4 second places; 2. Winning the Bronze at the 1995 World Championship (lost in semis in 5 sets to Holland). It was my FIRST international event. And in my opinion, the WC is the hardest volleyball tournament in the world; 3. 2008 Gold Medal in China. Not only because it capped off my USA career, but because my wife, parents, and 7-year-old son were there to hug me and cry with me after the final. My two regrets: 1. My performance in Atlanta. That team was good enough to be on the medal stand. But I was too immature for that big moment and my poor play showed that; 2. Retiring. I was still playing very well. I had another one-year offer with UFA, Russia. But I thought it was enough. I thought it was time to stop and just be with my family. I could’ve played at least 2 more seasons. I wish I would have.“

You were one of the proponents of the idea of relaunching the U.S. professional volleyball league back in 2017 and also, one of the participants when it came to life. It seemed like an ambitious project that was to bring back American players who compete overseas. This league is now out of the spotlight after a pompous start. What’s the situation now, and are you in any way involved in this story?

“There are a few different groups trying to put a sustainable professional league together. I wish them all luck. I have always loved the idea of USA players having their own domestic league to play in. I have been waiting for 30 years (laughing). At this moment, I am on the board of the Volleyball League of America. We consist of 5 teams from all over the USA. We hoped to have our season start this month, but due to COVID-19 that has been delayed. My team, Team Pineapple will be participating in it when we start hopefully next month. I still play (one match an event /laughing/) but the rest of the players are younger and looking for an opportunity to play and live out their dreams as it did. Please check us out at volleyballleagueofamerica.com.“

What’s Lloy Ball doing nowadays?

“Now, I run a youth volleyball club called Team Pineapple ( teampineapple.com ). We have 23 teams ages 10-18. We use my volleyball facility, the Ball Sports Academy for training. This is a full-time job. I also coach a team as well as help train all of our players.“

Do you have a message to boys and girls who want to play volleyball professionally?

“As far as playing professionally, I would say this. It is hard!! Every player tells me they want to play overseas. But when I ask them: 1. Are you willing to train 6 hours a day? 2. Are you willing to sacrifice family, friends and the fun others will have? 3. Are you willing to live in a foreign place, with different languages, food, and cultures? 4. Are you willing to dedicate your life and love the sport enough to make this your only mission? 5. Are you willing to do all of this and maybe not get paid? Many change their minds after this. Playing overseas, playing professional volleyball was my dream. It was my life’s pursuit. If a player is not willing to make it their life’s pursuit, no amount of passing, setting, spiking, and serving will matter.“


Check out more interviews.


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