LaMelo Ball, the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft class, has purchased the Australian NBL team he played for last season, according to ESPN. Ball and his manager Jermaine Jackson went in together to buy the Illawarra Hawks in a deal Jackson called "done" as of Thursday.
"Melo loves the Illawarra fans," Jackson told ESPN. "He loves that community. They opened their arms to him. They made us feel like we are at home. When we started hearing about the issues they were going through, we talked about it and decided, 'Let's own the team.'"
Ball played just 12 games for the Hawks last season before an injury forced him to shut it down early, averaging 17 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game. In that span he elevated himself from a fringe first-round prospect to the potential No. 1 pick in this year's draft.
Despite that meteoric rise as an NBA prospect, Ball has long been considered a basketball phenom. Before going overseas to play for the NBL as part of the league's Next Stars program, Ball, in 2017 as a high school player for Chino Hills, while committed to UCLA. But his high school career ended early after his father pulled him out of school to play professionally in Lithuania. He spent a season playing in his father's own professional league, the JBA, before signing with the Hawks last year.
Ball's ambitions are more than just owning a team, but growing it, too. The Hawks have been one of the worst teams in the NBL over the last few years, so it's a project. His vision includes hiring people to oversee the team and growing the program, his manager said.
"When high school kids hear LaMelo owns the team, they will want to come," Jackson said. "They'll know they will be taken care of. We're going to put the organization on steroids, building it into a program that guys want to play for. I'm in touch with several former NBA GMs that want to go there to help out and high-level coaches that won every championship you can imagine."