The international profile of young basketball star LaMelo Ball heads Down Under in 2019.
Ball is the newest signee to the NBL Next Stars program, set to join the Illawarra Hawks for the 2019-20 campaign. Said NBL CEO Jeremy Loeliger in a statement on Monday: “LaMelo is one of the most exciting and talked about young players in the basketball world.”
In other words, the NBL is making a splash—or perhaps wave is the more fitting description.
NBL waveeee— 14 (@RjHampton14) June 17, 2019
Monday’s announcement concludes weeks of rumors that linked Ball to the NBL, as well as China, and is the second major win for NBL Next Stars. Ball is the second 5-star prospect from the 2019 college basketball recruiting class to sign with the NBL in as many months, joining newly minted New Zealand Breaker, R.J. Hampton.
Ball fits the profile Loeliger described of a Next Stars candidate to FloHoops.com earlier this month: A coveted, young talent projected for high standing in the NBA draft. ESPN.com projects the 6-foot-5 combo guard as its No. 33 prospect in the 2020 professional class.
Another way in which Ball’s signing meshes with the Next Stars mission statement is his newsworthiness.
About the program in general, Loeliger said one of its pillars is “to increase the relevance of our product … in Australia, to renew our audience, and outside of Australia, in particular in the U.S., for our viewers who are becoming more and more invested in following the earlier careers of those guys before they become NBA superstars.”
Few early-career players have been followed as closely as Ball. The third of three basketball-playing brothers, Ball’s high-scoring style at Southern California-based Chino Hills High, and initial commitment to follow eldest sibling Lonzo to UCLA, generated headlines.
Ball patriarch LaVar turned headlines into regular TV appearances, just this week appearing on programs to discuss Lonzo’s trade over the weekend to the New Orleans Pelicans. Through it all, LaMelo embarked on an odyssey that took him to Lithuania in the 2017-18 season, and SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio, last season.
The NBL promises Ball the highest level of competition he’s faced in his short, albeit high-profile, career. Last season, the Illawara Hawks organization he’s set to join featured names noteworthy to college basketball fans: Cedric Jackson, a driving force behind Cleveland State’s 2009 NCAA Tournament upset of Wake Forest and the 2013 NBL Most Valuable Player, and Emmett Naar, a standout at perennial mid-major power Saint Mary’s.
Naar is back with the Hawks in 2019. The club also adds Sam Froling, the brother of 2018-19 NBL Rookie of the Year Harry Froling and a contributor to Creighton’s 20-win team a season ago.
LaMelo is an exceptional talent,” Hawks owner Simon Stratford said in a statement. “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."
The talent both around Ball, and those whom he will be facing in the coming season, offers plenty of intrigue on its own. With Ball and Hampton now set to take to Australia, the NBL Next Stars program is indeed building a wave of momentum.