Star makes huge Aussie call on US TV
AMERICAN teenage star LaMelo Ball has confirmed he is coming to Australia to play with the Illawarra Hawks in another recruiting coup for the NBL.
Just weeks after top NBA Draft prospect RJ Hampton stunned the basketball world to turn his back on college basketball and sign with the NBL's New Zealand Breakers, LaMelo Ball has followed suit in a move that marks the NBL a major threat to America's college basketball institutions.
Ball, the son of loudmouth basketball dad LaVar Ball, and youngest brother of former No. 2 NBA Draft Pick Lonzo Ball, confirmed his decision on ESPN's Get Up breakfast show.
LaMelo, a top draft prospect for the 2020 NBA Draft has signed a one-year deal as part of the NBL's Next Stars program.
The Next Stars campaign is specifically designed to target the most exciting teenage basketball stars on the planet in a bid to convince them to play their first year out of high school in Australia's professional league.
Under the rules of the NBA Draft, prospects can only nominate to enter the draft after their first year out of high school.
Traditionally, players have chosen to spend their "one-and-done" year at a college - where they are not paid a cent, but receive free tuition as part of their basketball scholarships.
That tradition is swinging violently towards the NBL now.
"I am excited to be a part of the NBL's Next Stars program and to join the Illawarra Hawks team," Ball said, in a statement.
"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."
If LaMelo is coming Down Under, then LaVar is surely also coming to grace our shores.
The outspoken dad, who famously "spoke" into existence his son's dream recruitment by the Los Angeles Lakers as the No. 2 pick behind Aussie Ben Simmons three years ago, is showing no signs of slowing down.
He was making headlines of his own just minutes after his son's big announcement.
While appearing on ESPN's First Take to discuss son Lonzo being sent to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the Anthony Davis deal, Ball prompted an awkward moment with an inappropriate comment toward the show's co-host Molly Qerim, The New York Post reports.
ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith threw the conversation to Qerim, who said she was "switching gears" with the next question, to which Ball responded, "You can switch gears with me any day."
A look of shock briefly crossed Qerim's face before she handled the uncomfortable moment with a simple, "Let's stay focused here."
"LaVar Ball's comment to Molly Qerim Rose was completely inappropriate and we made him aware of that," ESPN said in a statement.
Smith reacted by saying, "Oh, Lord," while shaking his head in Ball's direction.
"Kudos to Molly Qerim for the professional way she handled LaVar Ball after his inappropriate comment," former ESPN host Jemele Hill wrote on Twitter. "Maybe ESPN will have finally learned its lesson about putting him on TV."
Ball is no stranger to disrespecting female hosts while appearing on television, and he's even attempted to make a profit off it. He told Kristin Leahy to "stay in your lane" on FS1 in 2017 and then sold T-shirts with the phrase as part of his Big Baller Brand.
Meanwhile, The NBL and Illawarra Hawks have trumpeted their move for LaMelo as another coup for the league.
NBL's CEO Jeremy Loeliger said the league is "thrilled" to have pulled it off.
"LaMelo is one of the most exciting and talked about young players in the basketball world and he is going to create enormous interest wherever he goes while he's playing here in the Hungry Jack's NBL," Loeliger said.
"We're thrilled he is going to come to Australia and develop his talents with the Illawarra Hawks as part of our Next Stars program on his way to what we all hope will be a long and successful career in the NBA.
"Together with RJ Hampton, he will help attract more attention to the NBL, both in terms of fans and importantly NBA scouts. All of those scouts are also going to have the opportunity to see the rest of the incredible talent on display here in the NBL."