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LLOY BALL // Coming up aces in court controversy

If Lloy Ball had lived in another time and place, the people of his hometown might have charged him with heresy and demanded he be burned at the stake.

What blasphemy did the Woodburn, Ind., native commit?

The unspeakable. The unimaginable. The unforgivable.

Ball said "no" to Bob Knight.

"People thought I was crazy," Ball said of his decision to play volleyball instead of hoops. "Some of my friends still won't talk to me."

But the 6-foot-8 high school basketball standout had his reasons.

The first was his father, Arnie Ball, coach of the Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne volleyball team.

Growing up, Lloy watched his father's team come close, but fail to make, the final four several times.

"It was frustrating watching them always come up short," Ball said. "I wanted to play for my dad and go to the final four for the first time."

Ball got what he wanted. He led the Volleydons to final four appearances in 1991, '92 and '94. A three-time All-American, Ball holds the school record for assists, block assists and service aces.

"Playing for my dad, volleyball became my passion," he said. "I really didn't plan it that way. It just happened to be the road I took. And now I am glad I did."

That's because the road led to Atlanta, where Ball stands poised to lead the U.S. volleyball team in its quest for a gold medal. An Olympic dream was the other reason Ball chose volleyball.

"People still say to me you could have been in the NBA," Ball said. "But Indiana isn't known for its NBA breeding. They have more of a team concept. I doubt I would have ended up playing professionally."

Money and fame aside, Ball credits volleyball with helping to shape his personality.

"It made me who I am," he said. "Volleyball is such an emotional game, a real free-spirited sport. Volleyball players don't conform to anything. They tend to have a lot of passion. There's a little bit of discipline, but you really have a chance to be yourself on the court. I don't know if I would have gotten the same opportunity playing basketball."

And anybody who knows Lloy Ball definitely will agree, he is one of a kind both on and off the court.

For starters, at 6-8 Ball revolutionized the position of setter.

"The whole game is changing," Ball said. "If you look at the height average of our winning teams in '84 and '88, we're about 4 inches taller.

"The game has gone from finesse to power. Guys have to set against me instead of the 6-4 guy of the past. It really adds a new dimension to the game."

Ball is known for his emotional play on the court. His aggressive, inspired style helped lead the men's team to a bronze medal at the 1994 World Championship.

"I tend to get a little, what I call "Aggro' on the court," Ball said. "I play with so much passion on the court, that I have tried to tone things down in my social life. If I didn't, I think I would have gone a little crazy."

When people first meet Ball, they are often intimidated. "I look pretty grungy," he said. "They think what a jerk."

The heavy-metal look _ shorts, sleeveless T-shirts, black combat boots, silver earrings and necklaces _ isn't particularly popular among most Olympians.

But what Ball lacks in fashion sense he makes up for with spirit.

"I just got the Olympic rings tattooed across my back, 6 by 2, shoulder to shoulder," he said. "It looks really good."

Unfortunately, the fans won't get a chance to see Ball's latest ink beneath his jersey. But other tattoos will be visible.

On his right shoulder he has the head of Satan tattooed with "Anger is a gift."

Is he a devil worshiper?

"No," he said. "That just sums up how I play on the court. I tend to bottle up my emotions during the week, then take them out on my opponent during the match."

The words come from a song by his favorite band, Rage Against the Machine.

"If you turn it up real loud, you can hear the lead singer whisper, "Anger is a gift,' in between the lyrics," he said. "It sums up my style of play."

On his left biceps, Ball has a tattoo of a serpent trying to squeeze a volleyball. On his right biceps he has the words "San Luis Rey," in Scandinavian Rune.

"That was the first street I lived on when I moved to San Diego to play volleyball," he said. "There were nine of us living in a two bedroom house, all getting paid $500 a month. It was the beginning of this journey."

On his right calf, he has a skeleton jump-serving a volleyball. On his right pectoral, he has the Egyptian symbol for life and initials S.

J., for his girlfriend, Sarah Jane.

Family members had mixed reactions to his skin art, Ball said.

"My dad laughed, but my mom was a little freaked, especially about the devil's head because we come from a religious background," he said. "But once I explained to her that I didn't sacrifice babies or anything, she calmed down."

Ball is accustomed to being misunderstood.

Although he might listen to bands such as White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails, he also reads Hawthorne, Dickens and Kant. He likes to write poetry and keep journals.

"I write in a diary every day," he said. "I have one for everyday stuff, like personal relationships, then I have another just for volleyball."

As for his team's chances in the Olympics, Ball is optimistic. "We can serve other teams off the court in a heartbeat," he said. "Italy is favored to win the gold, but with our home-court advantage, you never know. Look for us in the top three."

When the Games are over, Ball plans to return to San Diego, grab his Becker longboard and head to Mexico.

"I think I'll just disappear for a while ... go surfing."

Meet the athlete

SPORT: Volleyball. POSITION: Setter.

AGE: 24. HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 6-8, 220 pounds.

HOMETOWN: Woodburn, Ind.

COLLEGE: Indiana-Purdue at Fort Wayne.

TEAM USA MEMBER SINCE: 1994.

MAJOR INTERNATIONAL COMPETITIONS: 1995 World Cup, 1995 Pan American Games (silver), 1994 FIVB World Super Four, 1994 World Championship (bronze).

ABOUT HIS NAME: "My grandfather's name was Lloyd. He was in World War II as a tanker man. He was the only one, when they stormed Normandy Beach, who didn't lose his tank. He made it all the way up the hill, and he's a big hero in our family. They wanted to name me after him, but not the same. So they dropped the "d.' It throws people, but maybe that's why I'm a little unique."

_ TERRY TOMALIN

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