So you’re 11 years old, getting ready to play some basketball in a national contest, making your first trip to the greatest city in the world — well, New York City is the greatest if you ask a New Yorker — on your first airplane ride.
Oh, and you get to meet some National Basketball Association players, including a possible future hall of famer.
So many things could be your choice as your favorite part of the trip. Instead, Loreli Mallon was all about the game ... and winning.
“My favorite part was the competition,” she said.
That competitive nature led to Mallon winning her age division in the Junior NBA Skills Challenge national finals at Hunter College in New York on June 21. And she did it despite only arriving in The Big Apple a couple hours earlier.
“Our flight got to New York a little after 10 a.m., and her competition started at 1 p.m.,” Loreli’s dad, Scott, said. “We spent the night in Chicago (near O’Hare Airport), so it wasn’t too bad.”
No jet lag as Loreli scored 28 points, thanks to hitting her free throw and making six straight four-point shots from different spots around the top of the key.
The format had the kids getting one minute to display their skills in dribbling, footwork and shooting from designated spots on the floor. Points are given for the shots — one for layups, two for shots from the block, four from the elbows at the key and six from the three-point line.
But the Skills Challenge finals on the first day Loreli and her family arrived in New York was just a small part of the mini vacation. The youth finalists in four age groups got to meet 10 to 12 former college stars who would eventually be picked the next night in the NBA Draft at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. Among them was the much-talked-about, highly-hyped son of a crazy father Lonzo Ball, who was picked by the Los Angeles Lakers after her dad, LaVar, said that’s the only team his son would play for.
LaVar’s said and done more crazier things — like saying he’s better than Michael Jordan (not his son, mind you, but LaVar himself) or making an appearance on WWE Monday Night Raw wrestling last week or starting his son’s own Big Baller brand well before he was even drafted.
But Lonzo seems to be more normal compared to dad.
“The players did drills and workouts with the kids,” Scott said. “Lonzo interacted well with the kids. I was actually surprised.”
But Lonzo didn’t sign any autographs like most of the draftees. After all, as LaVar would say, “that’s not how Big Baller rolls.”
Besides Scott and Loreli, the rest of the family went on their first trip to New York, from mom Kristina to Loreli’s sisters Mackenzee and Olivia. They went to a Yankees baseball game, touring the famous Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, visited the September 11 Memorial, Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, where mom looked into some family history.
“I found my great grandfather’s name on a panel at Ellis Island,” Kristina said.
Loreli, a student at Renaissance Academy in La Porte, was only casually impressed with her first time on an airplane.
“It was fine,” she said about the flight.
And she was only partially impressed with meeting former Bulls’ player Taj Gibson and longtime NBA star Vince Carter, whom she took a photo with while wearing a shirt with the number and team of her favorite player, Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who just signed the richest contract in NBA history.
It was all about performing in front of about 500 people with a basketball, and winning.
It all earned her recognition from Michigan City itself. First, there was the police escort when they arrived back in town. Loreli got to sit in a police car — hopefully for the only time in her life — with another one riding along. And on Saturday morning, she was in a float in the city’s Patriotic Parade, much to her surprise.
“We haven’t told her yet,” Kristina said on Thursday when Loreli wasn’t around.
Now she gets to be a bit of a local celebrity while continuing to improve her basketball skills. And one day, maybe she'll be making shots from the top of the key for Michigan City High School on the same team as older sister Mackenzee, who will be a freshman starting next month.
Reach sports editor Steve T. Gorches at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.