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LaMelo Ball to play in Australian National Basketball League

By Connor Grott
LaMelo Ball to play in Australian National Basketball League
LaMelo Ball (L) will join the Australian NBL's Illawarra Hawks for next season. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

June 17 (UPI) -- LaMelo Ball will play for the Illawarra Hawks of the Australian National Basketball League next season, the guard announced Monday.

Ball, a 17-year-old point guard, played for a year in Lithuania in 2018, making it unlikely that he could play in college due to NCAA eligibility rules.

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"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."

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The Australian NBL is a nine-team league that begins play in early October and concludes in late March. Ball reached a two-year deal with NBA out clauses, according to ESPN.

Ball will join highly-touted prospect RJ Hampton in the NBL. Hampton signed with the NBL's New Zealand Breakers in late May. The adding of both players was a product of the NBL's Next Stars program, which has started to lure elite prospects away from college basketball and the NBA's G League.

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"I had already decided to play in the NBL prior to RJ's decision. I just hadn't yet narrowed down the team," Ball said. "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."

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Ball, listed at 6-foot-6, averaged 6.5 points and 2.4 assists in 13 minutes per game across eight contests in the Lithuanian first division.

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