Young Stars Forgo NCAA for Opportunity in Australia

Aaron Notis, Maroon-News Staff

It was never considered to be the norm for a National Basketball Association (NBA) scout to travel to Australia to watch professional basketball.

Now, thanks to two impressive high school graduates who passed over collegiate ball to play in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL), NBA scouts are making the trip. R.J. Hampton, a product of Little Elm High School in Little Elm, Texas, was a five-star recruit and is widely considered to be the top prospect of the 2020 draft class.

After reclassifying to the class of 2019, Hampton took the leap to play for the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL. LaMelo Ball, brother of New Orleans Pelicans point guard Lonzo Ball and star of the Facebook reality series “Ball in the Family,” skipped his junior year of high school to play professional basketball in Lithuania.

Ball then returned to play for former NBA guard Jermaine Jackson and SPIRE Academy for his senior year. After some controversy with his NCAA eligibility, Ball decided to follow Hampton’s path and play for the NBL’s Illawarra Hawks.

For both Ball and Hampton, this move was key, and so far it is paying dividends. They have yet to play many games, but both prospects have performed well in the pre-season.

Hampton, the 6’5” guard, averaged 17 points along with 4.8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.5 blocks. Hampton relies on his highly touted athleticism to blow by defenders.

NBA executives have taken notice, and ESPN’s most recent mock draft has him going sixth overall. NBA scouts are not the only ones impressed by Hampton’s numbers and performance. His exceptional play has already helped to secure a five-year deal with Li-Ning, a Chinese shoe brand that also sponsors NBA guards Dwyane Wade and C.J. McCollum.

Ball’s pre-season play has garnered significant attention from NBA scouts. In his first three games, Ball averaged 15.7 points, 3.5 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals. He has flashed his potential as a playmaker, showcasing both his amazing pace and passing ability on the fastbreak.

Ball also shows great patience in pick-and-roll situations, which is a key skill NBA scouts look for in prospects.

His modern style of play makes him an enticing prospect for many NBA teams in need of a spark at the guard position. Scouts have noted that his impressive handle and finishing ability improved greatly since leaving SPIRE. It is rumored that Ball is also in negotiations with multiple companies over a possible shoe deal.

Ball distanced himself from his father Lavar’s Big Baller Brand after the brand’s co-founder, Alan Foster, stole 1.5 million dollars from the family and disappeared.

After this incident, LaMelo and his brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo signed with the gargantuan CAA Sports Agency.

NBA executives anticipate that LaMelo is now in the conversation for the number one pick, along the likes of Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, Memphis’s James Wiseman and Israel’s Deni Avdija.

ESPN’s most recent mock draft sees LaMelo going third overall to the New York Knicks.

Timing has played a key role in highlighting Ball and Hampton’s success on the Australian courts. College basketball practices just started, and NCAA games do not start until early November.

So, for now, Ball and Hampton are the best draft prospects on the court, and executives can use this time to get a good look at them, contemplating whether or not either guard might be the missing piece.