Injured Breakers star Hampton leaves NBL

Daniel Gilhooly
RJ Hampton in happier times before injury forced him to quit the NZ Breakers and return to the US

An injured RJ Hampton has ended his stint with the New Zealand Breakers and will return to the United States, robbing the NBL of both its "Next Star" teenage guards.

Hampton joins LaMelo Ball in leaving the league prematurely, wanting to continue the rehabilitation on his injured hip and prepare for the 2020 NBA draft, where both are expected to be in hot demand.

Ball exited the Illawarra Hawks last week because of an ongoing foot complaint while fellow-18-year-old Hampton hasn't played for more than three weeks.

The former Texas high-school star tallied 15 games in the NBL, averaging 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists.

Breakers owner Matt Walsh said Hampton's presence had boosted the club's profile and been positive for New Zealand basketball in general.

"RJ brought excitement and fanfare to the club and the league," Walsh said.

"We wish him well in his continued recovery and preparation for the NBA Draft and look forward to draft night when he will no doubt be a top pick."

NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger said Hampton's time in the NBL will have "no doubt" prepared him for the step up to the NBA.

Hampton's departure comes three days out from their biggest game of the season, against the Bullets in Brisbane, where their hopes of securing the fourth and final play-off berth goes on the line.

They were helped on Monday night when the NBL awarded the Kiwi club the two points as "winners" of the abandoned match against Ilawarra, cut short due to a leaking roof at Wollongong's WIN Entertainment Centre.

Another potential boost could be the return of Tall Blacks star guard Corey Webster, who is returning early from his stint in China's national league, which was shut down due to health fears around the coronavirus epidemic.

The Breakers are understood to be sounding out the NBL about the possibility of Webster rejoining their campaign, having been released mid-season to pursue the lucrative deal.

The club was struggling at that point but has since won nine of 12 games to be in contention for the post-season.