Top draft prospect LaMelo Ball has returned stateside after an abridged season with the Illawarra Hawks in Australia, according to a report from Timothy Fernandez of ABC Illawarra (hat tip to NBC Sports).
Ball’s season came to an early end when he suffered a foot injury in December and was subsequently shut down in January. Although he wasn’t going to suit up again for the team, it sounds like the Hawks were caught off guard by the timing of Ball’s departure. According to Fernandez, captain Todd Blanchfield didn’t know about it until he was asked for comment by ABC Illawarra.
“It’s news to me, but [Ball’s camp has] got an agenda they have to take care of,” Blanchfield said. “At the end of the day he’s thinking of the bigger picture and has bigger things in mind. … We were teammates for half the season while he was playing, and we had our ups and downs, but it would have been good to say goodbye.”
Team owner Simon Stratford said he was “really disappointed” that Ball didn’t say goodbye to his teammates or coach, per Fernandez. Still, when the Hawks officially announced Ball’s departure, they wished him the best in his preparations for the draft.
“LaMelo has had a big impact on our club and the league and we thank him for everything he has done for the Hawks and the Illawarra community,” Hawks general manager Mat Campbell said in a statement. “He has a very bright future ahead of him and the Hawks are proud to have played a part in that journey. LaMelo and his team will always be a part of the Hawks family and we wish him the very best ahead of the NBA Draft.”
Ball averaged 17.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 6.8 APG in the 12 games he played prior to his injury, making himself a contender for the No. 1 overall pick in 2020. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony currently has Ball ranked atop his big board, though he notes that the guard’s work ethic and level of focus have been called into question. Ball’s abrupt departure from the Hawks could be another factor for NBA teams to consider as they evaluate his draft stock this spring.