STRAP in Ballarat, the first major event in our new showcourt arena is shaping up to be one incredible ride.
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Even Barack Obama might be keeping an eye on this clash, a pre-season hit-out between Melbourne United and Illawarra Hawks.
Obama started following the Hawks on Twitter when one of the biggest high-school stars signed with the National Basketball League club last month. The hype is that big.
LeMelo Ball has all the Kardashian-like ingredients to appeal to young fans: an outspoken parent/branding genius, a family reality show Ball in the Family and massive social media following. (For the record, his dad LaVar Ball does not like Kardashian playbook comparisons and says he "ain't no Kris Jenner").
This is a promising 17-year-old who is yet to play a game at a level like NBL. His family is talking a big game with LaMelo bypassing the traditional American college path to springboard into a top 2020 NBA draft pick in the United States.
Fellow American teenage social media star RJ Hampton is following suit, joining NBL club New Zealand Breakers. The 18-year-old is known for devoted followers to his work-out routines.
Natural talent and bold confidence can only get you so far in sport. These guys need to let their game do the talking.
Ballarat Miner NBL1 player Jordan Lingard summed it up best, when speaking on LaMelo: "it's a different game for players out here - he'll either do well or struggle. I don't know if it will be all about himself or the team."
Melbourne United, runner-up in NBL last season, has a strong roster including Australian Boomer Chris Goulding and former Boomers captain David Barlow.
Even the Hawks have recruited NBA experience in point guard Aaron Brooks who has been on the roster at Houston Phoenix, Sacramento, Denver, Chicago, Indiana and Minnesota.
Ballarat is well-versed in hosting NBL exhibition matches, thanks to long and strong support from Melbourne United - a partnership we should never take for granted.
United kept returning to the Minerdome the past five years, despite facilities not meeting elite sports teams' modern needs. It is incredibly fitting to have United step out for the first major sporting match in the new Ballarat Sports and Events Centre's 3000-seat arena.
What the LaMelo factor offers is a brighter spotlight on our stadium and our region. A whole global audience, including the 44th president of the United States of America, is intrigued in this young player.
NBL chief Jeremy Loeliger has told The Courier ahead of the NBL1 season Ballarat's stadium has potential to host an in-season game. United already draw too big a home-game crowd but it could be a fit for new NBL franchise South East Melbourne Phoenix, which will add pressure on top-notch courts in the state's captial.
Basketball Ballarat is also in talks with Super Netball club Melbourne Vixens.
But the added spotlight is also opportunity for Ballarat players.
Homegrown Miner and Melbourne United championship player Sam Short looks set to share the court with LaMelo before a roaring crowd in his hometown.
This is great for Short's game and for the bands of junior Ballarat players looking to Short as a role model in the game - ultimately this carries far more value than any LaMelo sighting.
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