LaMelo Ball will play next season in Australia's NBL for the Illawarra Hawks. The 17-year-old announced his plans Monday while appearing on ESPN's 'The Jump'. He will play on a 'Next Stars' contract, an initiative started by the NBL aimed at giving NBA prospects an alternative to college prior to becoming eligible for the NBA draft
IT'S OFFICIAL! 👊- Illawarra Hawks (@illawarrahawks) June 17, 2019
Welcome LaMelo Ball to the Hawks family!@MELOD1P x #FlyAsOne 🦅
Ball is the 21st-ranked prospect in the class of 2019 and becomes the second high profile prospect to announce his intention of playing in the NBL, joining RJ Hampton who signed with the New Zealand Breakers in May. This is Ball's second stint playing professionally outside of the United States as he spent four months in 2018 playing in Lithuania where, as a 16-year-old, he averaged 6.5 points and 2.4 assists per game in eight games.
"I am really looking forward to playing professionally this season, so that I can focus all of my time and energy on basketball," Ball said. "My experience in Lithuania will help make the adjustment easier. Playing overseas professionally at just 16-years-old put me in a place where I had to figure things out quickly and I think that experience will make a huge difference for me in Australia."
Ball's social media audience presents a unique opportunity for the NBL to gain more widespread global popularity. According to Jonathan Givony, Ball's 4.5 million followers on Instagram is more than all but 13 NBA players and significantly larger than the NBL itself which has 78,000 followers on that platform.