LaMelo Ball is the youngest player to record an NBL triple-double, in one of the competition's modern-day classics.

6 May
Dan Woods for

LaMelo Ball was a revelation in the NBL, and although his tenure with the Illawarra Hawks only lasted 12 games due to a foot injury, he took the league by storm.

The eventual number three draft pick and NBA All-Star still stands alone as the biggest jersey seller in the history of the competition, and while the then 19-year-old phenom showed flashes of his immense ability in Matt Flinn’s, side it was his final two games with the club that made the whole world stand up and notice.

The Hawks struggled to a bottom-placed finish in the NBL20 campaign. They won just five games across the entire campaign, three of which came in games Ball played. All of those victories spearheaded by the Next Star, incredibly, came against one team - the Cairns Taipans.

Illawarra proved itself to be the Taipans’ bogey team, as Mike Kelly and his team surged to a third-placed finish on the coattails of superstar import trio Scott Machado, Cam Oliver and DJ Newbil.

Even Cairns’ superstars were powerless to stop a performance that Corey Williams labelled as “the most famous and biggest game” in Australian basketball history.

The Hawks entered their Round 8 clash with Cairns following a five-point defeat to local rivals Sydney, and they had secured just one victory in their last seven games. Conversely, the Taipans had won back-to-back games against Brisbane and eventual champions Perth.

Ball started the game alongside Australian basketball legend David Andersen, NBL great AJ Ogilvy, current Hawk Todd Blanchfield, and Adelaide’s Sunday Dech, and the Hawks surged out to a first quarter lead thanks to a pair of late triples from Ball, and a pair of early buckets from Ogilvy.

A Ball triple extended the lead to 15 points late in the second quarter, and Illawarra entered the main break with a 13-point buffer. Then, the comeback started.

The Taipans systematically pegged the Hawks back through the second half, however a handful of three-pointers from Tim Coenraad and consistent scoring and assisting from Ball helped keep them at bay, however the Taipans entered the final 10 seconds of the game with a slender three-point lead.

Enter Ball.

Dech pushed the ball up the floor following a missed three-pointer from Ball’s Rookie of the Year rival Kouat Noi and an Ogilvy rebound.

Dech ran into a wall of Cairns defenders at the top of the key, so turned and found Ball who, a metre outside the three-point line, stepped into his shot.

Ball’s game-tying three was enough to force overtime, and Cairns’ resistance was broken. The young star went to work on the Cairns defence in the extra period.

He opened his term with an assist on a Tim Coenraad three-pointer, before he surged past Majok Deng and threw down one of the dunks of the season.

The Hawks emerged with a victory thanks to a 15-7 overtime period, of which Ball was responsible for 10 points with two made field goals and a pair of assists.

Coenraad impressed with 27 points off the bench, Ogilvy finished with a timely 11 points and 10 boards, and Dech played what was likely the best game of his NBL career to date in the victory, but the day belonged to Ball.

His 32 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists saw him become the youngest player in NBL history to record a triple-double, and, perhaps most impressively, he only committed two turnovers for the entire game.

Ball would secure more NBL history in Illawarra’s next game too. He added 25 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in his hotly anticipated clash with New Zealand Next Star RJ Hampton to become the first NBL player to register back-to-back triple-doubles since Geelong’s Daren Rowe in 1990.

That second triple-double would end up being Ball’s final game in the NBL due to a lingering foot injury, but he well and truly left his mark on the competition with his final two performances.

As it stands, Ball’s NBL career lasted 12 games, through which he averaged 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game.

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