Teenage basketball star LaMelo Ball plans to put the NBL’s Illawarra Hawks program “on steroids” but the league claims the deal to buy the beleaguered club isn’t done yet.
Ball, 18, won the NBL’s rookie of the year honours during his injury-hit cameo with the Hawks last season and is now back in California preparing for the NBA draft, where a top-five pick is likely.
He could have a different presence in Australia next season though, with business manager Jermaine Jackson declaring they had purchased the franchise from Simon and Wendy Stratford.
They officially relinquished the licence to the NBL on Friday night, having called for interested and committed investors earlier this week to prompt Ball’s team into action.
“We own the team,” Jackson told ESPN on Thursday.
“It’s a done deal.”
Jackson has grand plans for the NBL’s only remaining foundation club and said Ball would visit Australia in the NBA off-season to run clinics and “connect with the youth”.
“When high school kids hear LaMelo owns the team, they will want to come,” Jackson told ESPN.
“They’ll know they will be taken care of. We’re going to put the organisation on steroids, building it into a program that guys want to play for.
“I’m in touch with several former NBA GMs that want to go there to help out and high-level coaches that won every championship you can imagine.”
But the NBL aren’t handing over the keys yet, initially declaring on Friday morning the Stratfords held the license and that there had been no application lodged by Ball.
The league later confirmed they had taken back the licence and would “spend the coming weeks establishing a plan and a process to find the next owners of the club”.
The NBL had been on stand-by to take over the licence of the franchise following the reported collapse of the club and confirmed they would address outstanding player entitlements from the recently concluded season.
Jackson was certain the club was already theirs and said Ball had an emotional connection with the Hawks, despite being limited to just 12 games and heading home early to rehabilitate a foot injury.
“Melo loves the Illawarra fans. He loves that community. They opened their arms to him. They made us feel like we are at home,” he told ESPN.
“When we started hearing about the issues they were going through, we talked about it and decided, ‘Let’s own the team’.
“He is going to be locked into his NBA career, but we are going to hire the right people to oversee everything.
“He wants to create the best basketball program possible for that community there.”