LaMelo Ball putting Hawks on NBA map

Murray Wenzel
LaMelo Ball's performances for the Hawks has thrust the Wollongong club into the NBA spotlight

A shy teenager has turned an NBL club once just hours from extinction into a focal point for some of basketball's most powerful people.

Unprecedented hype followed LaMelo Ball to the Illawarra Hawks and the 18-year-old point guard has flourished despite it, firming as a top-five 2020 NBA draft prospect.

Ball became the youngest to notch an NBL triple-double on Monday, with highlights of his monster 32-point, 13-assist, 11-rebound haul against Cairns ticking over 10 million views across all platforms on Wednesday.

He was lured to the NBL instead of playing college basketball as part of the league's fledgling Next Stars program alongside RJ Hampton.

The pair's first encounter - they meet again on Saturday - was the most watched NBL game in history.

The Hawks' clash with the ladder-leading Sydney Kings last week drew 17,514 fans, making it the highest attended in league history.

Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan had general manager Mitch Kupchak in the building to watch Ball's historic Monday night show.

Kupchak pulled the strings for years at the Los Angeles Lakers, while Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers is also reportedly planning a trip to Australia and scouts are clambering to comment after every Ball outing.

All this attention for a club that in 2009 was miraculously saved on the morning the NBL was due to pull the pin.

"It's been crazy, but such a good ride," Hawks general manager Mat Campbell said.

Campbell played more than 500 games for the Hawks, also beginning as a teenager before spearheading the Save the Hawks campaign.

Their best efforts looked to have failed before a last-minute guarantee from businessman Arun Jagatramka secured the money they needed.

Now they boast a range of global and local sponsors, are enjoying a 50 per cent spike in membership and have the ear of most NBA clubs.

"We were ridiculously close to not having a club; it was rock bottom, 100 per cent out and had to prove we were in," Campbell recalled.

"We got the guarantee from the bank on the morning the submission was due and now it's about doing what we can to secure our future for another 40 years."

Whether he realises it or not, the softly-spoken Ball is contributing to that.

Ball has averaged 22.75 points, 8.25 rebounds and 8.5 assists in the four games since veteran guard Aaron Brooks' season-ending injury.

Josh Boone is being used sparingly as the club's only import - most teams have three - with the Hawks allowing Ball to run the show this past month.

And while three wins from 11 games doesn't scream success, Ball's getting better and like moths to a flame NBA heavy-hitters are calling.

"We had plenty of international scouts through the doors but now we're talking about GMs of basketball, the decision makers, the guys who are spending the money," Campbell said.

"I've been invited over to the States by multiple clubs in the off-season to learn and, having shown what we can offer these Next Stars, it's about building on these relationships with the NBA."

Suitors would be impressed with Ball's work ethic, the "gym rat" putting up shots at 2am Monday and again that night after his triple-double.

But, with NBA clubs likely to build their franchises around him, they're also asking about his off-court traits and how he works with teammates and fans.

Ball plays it straight in his on-court interviews but away from the obligatory media appearances Campbell says he ticks all the boxes.

"He's a shy guy with new people, a bit introverted which is ironic give he's a Ball," Campbell said in reference to his high-profile father LaVar.

"But he feels comfortable with the guys and around kids as well.

"There's been hype from every angle, plenty of questions about whether he could play.

"But he's put that to bed and done it without shoving it down your face - he's got a goal but he goes about his business in an unassuming way."

LAMELO BALL IN THE NBL

THIS SEASON: 16.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.7 assists per game

LAST FOUR GAMES: 22.75 points, 8.25 rebounds, 8.5 assists per game