When Lloy Ball was 17 years old, U.S. National Volleyball Team coach Bill Neville called him up to play with the team on a short tour of Japan. While this made Ball the youngest player ever to play for a U.S. National Team, Neville was hoping it would help Ball decide his future was with volleyball and not basketball.
"It's not a big deal, but we consider him an important player in the future of the program, and we want to give him as much international experience as possible," said Neville, who even went so far as to say Ball should pick volleyball in a Sports Illustrated story.
The extra incentive worked, and the Woodburn native turned down a basketball scholarship to Indiana and played for his father Arnie at IPFW. There are still many people who won't forgive Ball for turning down Bob Knight. When you are 6-8 and live in Indiana, supposedly the only time you are supposed to play on a volleyball court is when you run over it on a fast break during a basketball game.
But it's hard to argue with the results. The setter led the Volleydons to three NCAA Tournament appearances, was a three-time all-American and will play in his second Olympics this summer. He's the team captain for the USA team, was honored in 1998 as the best volleyball player in the country, and is recognized as the best server in the world. At age 27 he's also set for life financially.
It was difficult for Ball to gain acceptance with the national team. He was always the youngest player, trying to crack a veteran lineup that included several Olympic medalists. Then he was from the Midwest, not California which dominated the national team roster. It didn't help that the squad also trained in California.
"I went out there pretty headstrong trying to prove something," he said. "I still say today that each time out there, I'm playing for everyone east of the Mississippi."
Now the team roster has six players from outside California.
When Ball first joined the national team full time in 1994, the team was struggling after posting an 18-38 record in 1993. When Ball became the starting setter, the team went on a 14-1 tear.
That helped the Americans qualify for the 1996 Olympics where they finished out of medal contention. He also played professionally the last three years in Japan.