Global teenage sensation LaMelo Ball has become the latest highly rated NBA prospect to join the Hungry Jack’s NBL, signing for the Illawarra Hawks as part of the NBL Next Stars program.
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A five star recruit, LaMelo Ball is the younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans star Lonzo Ball and is currently ranked number 21 in the 2019 ESPN 1000 and considered a first round selection in the 2020 NBA Draft.
The 17 year-old will join top five NBA Draft prospect RJ Hampton as part of the NBL’s Next Stars program, which offers rising stars an alternative pathway to the NBA. Hampton recently announced he will play for the SKY Sport New Zealand Breakers.
Ball, a 198 cm point guard, won a state championship in his first year at Chino Hills High School and had a 92 point game in his second season. He then played in Lithuania before joining the Los Angeles Ballers of the Junior Basketball Association, a league founded by his father as an alternative to college basketball.
Last year he averaged 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for SPIRE Institute, a prep school in Ohio, and is currently playing in the Drew League where he earned player of the match honours with 25 points and 6 assists in his first game.
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The Next Stars program was introduced last season following the drafting of Terrance Ferguson by NBA team Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017 after he elected not to go to college in the US, instead spending the 2016/17 NBL season with the Adelaide 36ers straight out of high school.
Brian Bowen Jnr became the first NBL Next Star when he played for the Sydney Kings in the 2018/19 Hungry Jack’s NBL Season and will be eligible for this month’s NBA Draft.
NBL Chief Executive Jeremy Loeliger said: “LaMelo is one of the most exciting and talked about young players in the basketball world and he is going to create enormous interest wherever he goes while he’s playing here in the Hungry Jack’s NBL.
“We’re thrilled he is going to come to Australia and develop his talents with the Illawarra Hawks as part of our Next Stars program on his way to what we all hope will be a long and successful career in the NBA.
“Together with RJ Hampton, he will help attract more attention to the NBL, both in terms of fans and importantly NBA scouts. All of those scouts are also going to have the opportunity to see the rest of the incredible talent on display here in the NBL.”
Illawarra General Manager Mat Campbell said: “We’re very excited to have LaMelo join the team. It has been a goal of the club to provide pathway opportunities for our young talent to play in the NBA. With the likes of LaMelo and recently signed Sam Froling, we believe we’re well on our way to achieving that goal.”
Hawks Owner Simon Stratford said: “LaMelo is an exceptional talent and having him in a Hawks’ jersey fits with the goal of cultivating the best young talent and making them great. It’s putting the club at the top of the list for future NBA stars.”
LaMelo Ball said: “I am excited to be a part of the NBL’s Next Stars program and to join the Illawarra Hawks team. The NBL is a really solid league, with great coaches and players, and I am looking forward to putting all my focus and energy into basketball and getting to work.
“I believe this will be an amazing opportunity for me as I continue in my journey toward fulfilling my dream of playing in the NBA.”