SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW LONZO BALL…

The real Zo is still the 10-year-old boy who understood passing was like double-dutch: all rhythm and all timing. He calculated the precise second to throw the ball from one end of the court so that it soared over the hands of defenders and onto the fingertips of teammates at the other end without touching the ground.

The real Zo is a 13-year-old boy whose AAU team trailed by one with 20 seconds left. He drove to the basket, fooling the crowd by passing to his center, wide open underneath the basket, instead of shooting it himself. Clank. Ball’s team retrieved the ball with seven seconds left. “I’m going to give you the ball again,” an unfazed Ball told his visibly dejected center. “Be ready.” Ball whipped the ball to the center again—to the chagrin of over-zealous parents—but this time, the big man delivered the buzzer-beater layup.

The real Zo is a 14-year-old freshman challenging a senior for a starting varsity spot at Chino Hills High. “Are you nervous?” whispered John Edgar Jr., another childhood best friend, at tryouts. “Nah,” Ball said. “I’m not nervous at all. What do you mean?” Ball earned the nod.

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DRILLING KICKS AND NAILING DRILLS, KICKER BECCA LONGO BIDS FOR STARTING JOB ON ADAMS STATE FOOTBALL TEAM

Becca Longo places a football on the turf near the 20-yard line. She takes a few steps back and then to the side, positioning her right foot — a lime cleat with a splash of orange — farthest away from the ball. With both arms by her side, she gently wiggles her right arm, shedding lingering nerves and doubts.

Longo is alone on the field at Adams State, a Division II school in Alamosa, Colorado, a sleepy city of 10,000 about four hours south of Denver. The 5-foot-11, 140-pound freshman kicker is the lone woman on the Grizzlies’ 94-player roster. She’s also the first woman to earn a football scholarship at a Division I or II school.

But on this Thursday in early August at Rex Field, the only thing that matters is how high and how far she can make that football soar. She takes a deep breath and looks up at the sky, scanning for a cloud. There are plenty: giant, doughy streaks breaking free of the never-ending blue, hovering so low it looks like they could take a bite out of the San Luis Valley flatland.

Morning rain and thunder almost threatened to keep Longo from kicking today, but the weather didn’t stand a chance. Not much does. Last week, she hopped the field’s 7-foot gate to retrieve a ball, which left her with an inch-long gash on the palm of her right hand. She sprinted back to the field and continued to kick as the ruby-red stain pulsed.

THE REAL FIRST FAMILY OF HOOPS

The Ogwumikes are the type to play next-after-next-after-next-after-next-after-next in pickup, looking bewildered when everyone else in the gym starts taking off their kicks to call it quits. All four Ogwumike women, whose last name means “warrior” in Igbo, one of the national languages of Nigeria, are relentless. “No matter how we feel when we walk on the basketball court, we all have this sense of pride, so we always work hard,” Erica says.

Last season, Chiney took a nasty elbow to the mouth. She felt her tooth shake—it fell out the next day—but she kept playing. Only now has she set up an appointment for an implant. Nneka has a three-inch scar on the right side of her body from diving into the scorer’s table while playing for the Polish team CCC Polkowice in the Final Eight of Euroleague in Russia. She hopped right back in the game. Olivia has been whacked in the head as an undersized forward more times than she’d like to remember. Erica is the only Ogwumike to wear a mouth guard, as she boxes out players a head or two taller than she in the paint.

“We’ve all had our battle scars,” says Chiney, who is sitting out this season to rehab a left Achilles injury.

LACROSSE CLEARS PATH TO GREENER–AND SHORTER–PASTURES FOR TWO STRAWBERRY MANSION TEENS

Going one-on-one, McRae slips, her legs nearly scissoring into splits, but recovers to score. She dances in front of the net while El-Amin Gateward snaps each pose with an imaginary camera. “Give ’em face, Sis!” El-Amin Gateward screams in delight. “Give ’em face!”

That two black girls are celebrating their lacrosse skills — honed enough to take them to college — is something of a rarity. Lacrosse is played in predominantly white, affluent areas. At the NCAA level, 86.4 percent of Division I women’s lacrosse players in 2015-16 were white, while just 2.8 percent were black. US Lacrosse doesn’t even track participation rates for girls of color at the youth and high school levels.

“Every time you walk on that field, I want you to understand that people are always going to show you what you can’t do. You have to prove them wrong. Don’t let people get in your way,” coach Jazmine A. Smith reminds them. “Only you can stop you.”

FRESHMAN SAHID VALENZUELA EMERGING AS X-FACTOR FOR NO. 17 CAL STATE FULLERTON BASEBALL

Before every game, Cal State Fullerton infielder Sahid Valenzuela tells himself, “ponte perro,” the same words his father, Hector, whispered to him before his games growing up.
Be tough, be a grinder. Let’s go, get after it. Valenzuela, a 5-foot-9 rookie for the playoff-bound Titans, has been named to the initial watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award, awarded to the country’s best shortstop.

And this week he was named Big West Conference Freshman Field Player of the Year for 2017. He is the second Titan to earn the honor since Michael Lorenzen in 2011. Maybe it’s because he’s batting .344, ranking fourth in the Big West Conference. Maybe it’s because he’s racked up a team-leading 21 multi-hit games. Maybe it’s because he’s collected knocks in 33 of his last 39 games — 18 of those being multi-hit outings. Or maybe it’s because he scratched and clawed for most of his life just to get to this point.

“He’s got the heart of a lion, that kid,” said Alejandro Rivera, his uncle. “He’s the most humble person in the world, but he’s also going to let you know, ‘You gotta respect me.’” “You play hard,” Rivera said, “but he’s going to play harder.”

AT HOME ON THE COURT

There is a hoop, tall and sturdy. A net, white-grey, with two holes stretched out. Above that, a backboard, grey-black, with trails of original white poking through. Hovering above a driveway, with a slight dip on one side, an advantage or disadvantage depending on who’s on offense and who’s on defense.

“We’ve had some good battles on this court,” said Ken Kikkawa, 52, wearing navy Air Jordans. He grew up here, in Pasadena, California, playing in local Japanese-American leagues. He now plays in a Master’s division for players over 40 years old.

“I can still outshoot him,” Ken said, pointing to his 18-year-old son Kendall, who plays in the leagues and aspires to play college ball.

“I don’t know about that,” said Kendall, who, in addition to his basketball prowess, is also a football player and once scored eight touchdowns in a game for Flintridge Prep.

The one who can out-shoot them both walks over: Robert Kikkawa, 85, a founding member of the Pasadena Bruins organization in 1972. The hoop community calls him Lefty: “I used to shoot marbles left-handed,” he said, clutching a ball next to his son and grandson.

Hoops has bound the Kikkawas and countless other SoCal Japanese-American families together. Unwelcome in mainstream leagues, Japanese Americans sustained their own through internment during World War II and discrimination faced in its aftermath.

OREGON STATE VOLLEYBALL STAR A BRAVE VOICE TO COMBAT MENTAL ILLNESS

Madison Holleran. All Lanesha Reagan could think about was Madison Holleran, the University of Pennsylvania track athlete.

Reagan, Oregon State volleyball’s 5-foot-10 starting outside hitter, known for her power and pogo-stick bounce, lay in her bed in her freshman dorm and combed through Holleran’s story. Madison seemed to be gifted, kind, competitive. A budding track star, a daughter, a friend. Even a banana-and-peanut-butter aficionado. Few knew she struggled with depression and the pressures of social media.

On Jan. 17, 2014, Holleran leaped off the ninth level of a parking garage in Philadelphia. She died at 19.

Reagan shivered. Images of her own life swirled around her head: years of masking her pain, years of blocking out her shame, years of wishing she inhabited a body other than her own.

“That honestly could have been me,” Reagan said. “If things would have been different … I have no doubt in my mind that that could have been me.”