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AUCKLAND, New Zealand — By now, the secret is out on LaMelo Ball, and the hype appears to be real. The 6-foot-7 point guard is in line to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in June, and with the way he’s playing in the Australian National Basketball League, his case is only getting stronger.
Ball was the first player in the NBL since 2005 to post back-to-back triple-doubles, finishing with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists Saturday night.
So, does Ball believe he should be the No. 1 overall pick in the draft? “Most definitely. I believe in myself and I’ve worked hard to get here,” Ball told Yahoo Sports. “The other guys at the top of the draft, James [Wiseman] and Anthony [Edwards], are very talented too. But just in the way I believe in myself, I think I’m the top pick.”
A lot of people in the basketball world are believers, too. “I don’t see any way where LaMelo doesn’t go No. 1,” an NBL team executive told Yahoo Sports. “He sees the floor better than anyone, and his passing and shooting is like nothing I’ve seen before.”
A few NBA scouts made the trip to New Zealand to see Ball play against potential first-round draft pick RJ Hampton and were impressed with what they saw. “This is LaMelo’s first real competition in his career,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “The fact that he’s putting up numbers like this in a league full of former NBA players is forcing every team to look at him as a potential No. 1 pick.”
LaMelo has been quietly dominating, averaging 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and seven assists, but to him, it’s very simple. “Basketball is just basketball," he told Yahoo Sports, shrugging with a smile. "It’s been a little different everywhere I’ve played, but the game stays the same. And if you’re talented enough, you can play anywhere and against anyone and that’s just what I’ve been doing over here.”
It’s been an unusual path for the younger brother of Lonzo Ball. At 14, LaMelo reclassified in eighth grade to play varsity basketball with older brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo. Then LaMelo’s father, LaVar, pulled him out of high school when he was 16 to play professionally in Lithuania. LaMelo then decided to return to the States to play at SPIRE Institute in Ohio for a year before joining the Illawarra Hawks in the NBL. It’s not a stretch to say Ball has found success at every stop of his young career. “You really just have to stick to the grind and really love the game, and that’s what’s gotten me through to this point now,” LaMelo said.
Most basketball fans are bracing for the LaVar media circus, but it appears he's taken a back seat and is letting his youngest son’s game speak for itself.
LaVar hasn’t even spent much time in Australia since LaMelo arrived in August. LaVar and his wife were there for a week to shoot episodes for their Facebook reality show at the beginning of the season, but that's been it. When LaMelo had his first triple-double against the Cairns Taipans at the end of November (32 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists), LaVar was at middle son LiAngelo’s 21st birthday bash in L.A., launching a new Big Baller Brand line with a fashion show and, of course, walking the runway himself.
LaMelo just turned 18 in August but is not in Australia alone. His head coach from SPIRE, longtime family friend and former NBA player Jermaine Jackson, is with him as his trainer and manager. “JJ’s family, so my dad doesn’t really have to do all the stuff he did when Lonzo was going through all this with the talking and everything,” LaMelo said. It should also be noted that Jackson was the first to predict LaMelo as the No. 1 pick in 2020 a year ago in a video interview with TMZ Sports.
Contrary to some rumors, LaMelo told Yahoo Sports he is staying in Australia for the entire season despite his team’s last-place record of 3-9. “I don’t know where that rumor came from, but when I decided to come play over here, I committed to the whole season. I’m not leaving early,” he told Yahoo Sports.
LaMelo and Jackson plan to return to the States in mid-February, and only time will tell if LaVar will start making the media rounds then.
It's a good sign that there is already quite a bit of hype surrounding LaMelo and we haven’t yet seen LaVar on TV saying his youngest son is better than Steph Curry or some other crazy nonsense.
Is LaMelo a lock at No. 1? No, not yet. There’s still a lot of college basketball left to be played and plenty of time for Memphis’ Wiseman and Georgia’s Edwards to shine. Edwards already had one of the best halves of basketball this season, scoring 33 points (with seven threes) in 20 minutes.
One thing’s for sure, LaMelo Ball is the player in the 2020 class to beat right now, and it doesn’t stop after draft night. “I don’t want to be a player that’s just drafted and is a role player in the NBA,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I want to keep rising from there and be one of the best to ever play the game. I’ve been working my whole life for this.”
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