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Volume 26 No. 202
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Australia's NBL Seeing Influx Of NBA Talent Through New Program

LaMelo Ball is the most high-profile NBA prospect to play in the NBL through its Next Stars program
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
LaMelo Ball is the most high-profile NBA prospect to play in the NBL through its Next Stars program
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
LaMelo Ball is the most high-profile NBA prospect to play in the NBL through its Next Stars program
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Australia's National Basketball League has "emerged as a budding overseas destination for potential NBA Draft picks" who are not yet eligible for the Draft but "don't want to play college basketball," according to Bill Shea of THE ATHLETIC. The NBL in March '18 launched its Next Stars program, which this season attracted top NBA prospects LaMelo Ball, R.J. Hampton and Terry Armstrong, as a tool for the 40-year-old league to "boost its exposure." The program offers top prospects a "place to hone their skills -- for pay and other professional perks -- until they qualify for the Draft." With the program, the brainchild of NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger, the nine-team league has "made a push to sign young American stars with Draft potential" as part of its "audience growth strategy." The NBL "identifies players it thinks will fit the Next Stars profile and works out a deal directly with them." Next Stars players "don't count against a team's salary cap," as the league pays for them, and players also are "free to sign endorsement deals." The initiative's dividend for the NBL has "been immediate." The league said that it is now "averaging 7,189 fans per game," a 12% increase over the same point last season and "on pace for the third consecutive year" of attendance growth. Meanwhile, attendance is "up more than" 30% over the past four seasons. The crowd spikes are "one of several metrics the NBL says are evidence of the league's audience and business growth since its current ownership," led by Australian real estate mogul Larry Kestelman, who "took over five years ago" (THEATHLETIC.com, 11/19).

IMPACT ZONE: BLEACHER REPORT's Mirin Fader wrote the NBL has "profited from LaMelo's talent," securing an ESPN deal in July and a Facebook deal in September to broadcast games. NBL Hawks Marketing & Media Manager Brittany Gray said that June's announcement of Ball's signing "generated 1.6 billion impressions across the NBL's web and social channels." Over a million viewers in the U.S. "streamed LaMelo's debut against the Brisbane Bullets" in October, an NBL record (BLEACHERREPORT.com, 11/19).