The Illawarra Hawks announced on Wednesday afternoon that Next Star, LaMelo Ball has returned home to the US to continue rehabilitation work and prepare for the 2020 NBA draft.
The point guard had confirmed via his manager and trainer, Jermaine Jackson that he would not be playing for the remainder of the NBL 2019/20 season, due to the amount of time required to get back into game shape.
According to Fox Sports Australia's Olgun Uluc, Ball was supposed to stay in Australia until February, when the end of season awards were handed out. It should be fair to mention that Ball would be a prime candidate for Rookie of the Year honours.
Update: According to The Daily Telegraph's Matt Logue, Ball boarded his morning flight on Wednesday, with Jackson texted Illawarra head coach Matt Flinn to confirm their departure. Hawks owner Simon Stratford confirmed the news was unexpected.
“I’m really disappointed that he didn’t say goodbye to his teammates and his coach,” Stratford said. “I don’t know what that says. We had some indication via his minder Jermaine Jackson that he wouldn’t stay for the rest of the season. We anticipated that he’d leave around February 11, but we never thought he would leave before the indigenous round this weekend that is for sure.”
“With only four games remaining this season we understand LaMelo is keen to return home at this point in time to prepare for the most important phase of his career," Illawarra Hawks general manager, Mat Campbell said in an official release. "He has taken huge strides as a player this season and there is a lot of interest in him ahead of the NBA draft in June.
“LaMelo has had a big impact on our club and the league and we thank him for everything he has done for the Hawks and the Illawarra community. He has a very bright future ahead of him and the Hawks are proud to have played a part in that journey. LaMelo and his team will always be a part of the Hawks family and we wish him the very best ahead of the NBA draft.”
Like fellow Next Star RJ Hampton, Ball's projected draft stock had slipped in ESPN's latest mock draft.
The 2020 NBA draft will take place on 25 June 2020.