LaMelo Ball, 17, signs with Australian team to prep for NBA

(AP Photo/Liusjenas Kulbis, File)

SYDNEY (AP) American teenager LaMelo Ball has signed with the Illawarra Hawks for the upcoming National Basketball League season, the second top U.S. prospect to join the Australian league under its Next Stars Program.

The 17-year-old guard is rated as one of the best U.S. high school basketball players and is expected to be one of the top picks in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Ball is the brother of Lonzo Ball, who is being traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to the New Orleans Pelicans as part of the Anthony Davis deal.

American guard R.J. Hampton decided last month to forego his college eligibility and sign with the New Zealand Breakers in the nine-team NBL. The 18-year-old Hampton turned down offers from several top colleges, including Kansas, to sign with the Auckland-based team.

Illawarra team owner Simon Stratford said Ball is an "exceptional talent."

"Having him in a Hawks jersey fits with the goal of cultivating the best young talent and making them great," Stratford said in a statement Tuesday. "It's putting the club at the top of the list for future NBA stars."

The Next Stars Program places players with Australian teams who are eligible for the NBA draft and hand-picked by scouts.

Ball said a season in Australia would be the perfect opportunity for him to hone his skills for a future move to the NBA.

"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," he said.

The 2019-20 NBL season begins in October. The Hawks are based in Wollongong, south of Sydney.

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Updated June 17, 2019