LaMelo Ball, a 17-year-old point guard, announced Monday he will play for the Illawarra Hawks of Australia’s National Basketball League this year.
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Ball will join another American teenager, guard RJ Hampton, for the upcoming season in the NBL, which is promoting its Next Stars program as an alternative to spending a year in college before players are eligible for the NBA Draft.
Ball, the younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball, likely would not have been eligible to play collegiately because of his professional experience in Lithuania before returning to high school, as well as a shoe deal with the family’s Big Baller Brand.
But he told ESPN he thinks the NBL can be his launching pad to the 2020 Draft.
“My agents did a ton of research on the options I had to play this coming season, and Australia really made sense for me,” Ball told ESPN.
“They have a really strong league, with excellent coaches and great players, including former and future NBA players, and great strength and conditioning programs. My goal is to be the top pick in next year’s draft, and I feel they can help me reach that goal. Also, the timing of the season works well with the timing of next year’s draft.”
The nine-team NBL runs from early October to late March.
Ball and Hampton were considered five-star recruits in the 2019 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Hampton gave up his college eligibility last month to sign with the New Zealand Breakers.
“I had already decided to play in the NBL prior to RJ’s decision, I just hadn’t yet narrowed down the team,” Ball told ESPN. “But having RJ there only adds to the excitement. I think it will be a good experience for both of us to be there at the same time and to be able to play against one another.”
Ball agreed to a two-year contract that includes opt-outs for the NBA, ESPN reported.
Brian Bowen became the first NBL Next Star last season, when he played for the Sydney Kings. He is eligible for Thursday’s NBA Draft.
Watch the 2019 NBA Draft live on Sky Sports late on Thursday night (midnight)