NBL's Next Star: LaMelo Ball to join Illawarra Hawks

The NBL's Next Stars program just hit the spotlight once more, as LaMelo Ball commits to the NBL's Illawarra Hawks.

https://twitter.com/espn/status/1140707084868210695

Ball's signing was first leaked by The Beston & Greenway Podcast on Twitter last week, and was officially announced on ESPN's The Jump earlier this morning.

The NBL's Next Stars program will take a huge step forward with Ball's signing. He joins NBA top prospect, R.J. Hampton in the coming 2019/20 NBL season as part of the Next Stars program, which aims to establish itself as an alternative pathway to the NBA, outside of the NCAA route. Earlier Next Stars athletes have included Terrance Ferguson (Adelaide 36ers) and Brian Bowen II (Sydney Kings).

The Next Star signing does not take up any of an NBL club's existing three import spots.

Wins all around

This signing is a huge win on multiple angles. Not only is the NBL getting massive international exposure once more, a small market NBL team will be getting a healthy dose of media attention. After a stint in Lithuania, Europe, Ball will get another chance to establish himself on the professional circuit and prove his talent outside of the NCAA microscope - with that, hopefully a surge in his position when the 2020 NBA draft comes along.

“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.”

Outside of LaMelo Ball, the Illawarra Hawks also successfully recruited former NBA player, Aaron Brooks. Brooks, who made the announcement on Instagram, was first drafted by the Houston Rockets, and had a 10-year career with the Rockets, Sacramento Kings among other teams.

View this post on Instagram

Preparations about to meet Opportunity. They say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. After a year off, the battery is fully charged!!! And the treads are good... @illawarrahawks Lets get it!! #AussieAussieAussieOiOiOi

A post shared by Aaron Brooks (@zerosenior) on Jun 17, 2019 at 2:47pm PDT

NBL CEO, Jeremy Loeliger talked about the LaMelo signing, and how the Next Stars program fit.

https://youtu.be/vmxriCnRd1E

"We know that this is a great opportunity for the NBL and LaMelo, but we also know this is not the right path for everyone necessarily. What the Next Stars program is aiming to do is give people an alternative pathway for those folks who don't necessarily fit the traditional mould of high school - college - NBA.

"Melo's still got some questions to answer, in terms of scouts' minds as to whether or not he can play against fully grown, hardened professionals. This is going to give him a real opportunity ahead of the draft to demonstrate he can do exactly that. It's going to put him in the best possible position to be ready for his first game in the NBA in 2020."

Loeliger also discussed the benefits of a shorter, lighter NBL schedule could would allow for a young NBA prospect to adapt to professional basketball life.

In the same video above, Illawarra Hawks head coach, Matt Flinn talked about the club's history of developing talent, and how the Hawks will make Ball better, and how his versatility could fit in the league.

LaMelo in NBLxNBA preseason?

LaMelo Ball might not have to wait too long for his first NBA game.

The NBLxNBA preseason games is going into its third year. It has been confirmed by R.J. Hampton's agent, George Langberg that Hampton's New Zealand Breakers will be playing the Oklahoma City Thunder. It would not be inconceivable to stretch this line of thought and suggest Ball's Illawarra Hawks could play an NBA team in NBA 2019/20's preseason, should finances and logistics work out.