'LaMelo show' thrills fans, teammates ... and even rivals

There was a different vibe walking into Melbourne Arena on Saturday night and it was hardly the vibe that you would expect from a Round 3 NBL matchup.

The excitement was palpable in the concourses an hour before tip-off, as thousands of fans waited for the doors to open so they could storm to the best possible vantage points for warmups.

This was of course, due to the 'LaMelo show' making its first stop in Melbourne.

Every dribble, every pass, every shot attempt was met with oohs and aahs as the expected 2020 NBA lottery pick went about his business.

"It was amazing," South East Melbourne Phoenix big man, Dane Pineau said postgame.

"Even 40 minutes before the game, we were warming up and the place was almost half full already, so it was pretty incredible the amount of people that were there, it does give you a boost."

For the Illawarra Hawks, this is already becoming the norm as each road game draws massive crowds, with the attention firmly focused on the rising star.

"It's exciting, it's a pleasure to be around this group and I've said it often, it's never lost on me one day how lucky we are to do what we do, and we enjoy the ride," Hawks coach Matt Flinn said postgame.

"There's no question there's been a lot of tension on our team. The great thing about living in Wollongong is that people from Wollongong embrace it for the first few weeks and then it's just LaMelo, it's Aaron Brooks, they are just part of the furniture now."

For 19-year-old, Sam Froling, the experience of playing next to Ball has been an eye-opening experience, perhaps more so off the court.

"It's fun, it's interesting kind of seeing his style of life compared to what we grew up with. He's just a normal kid, he's like us, he comes and hangs out with us, we do all the same stuff that we would do anyway but it's interesting to just observe other people's behaviours around him but it's good fun," Froling said.

The crowd of 10,098 was the highest non-Melbourne United crowd in the city since 2000, with a finals like atmosphere befitting the high quality contest on the floor.

"I had more ticket requests than usual," Pineau said with a laugh.

"I was picking up tiles for my sister and two different workers at the store came up and said, 'good luck against Melo this week', which is pretty cool, the impact that [Ball] has, a lot of people know about him and what's going on, it's helping the league out a lot so there was a bit of buzz, I was getting excited as the week went on so it was a different sort of game for us."

Ball would finish with 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists, at times flashing the razzle dazzle the crowd so desperately desired, while at other times showing the raw skillset he possesses, with the defensive side of the game still clearly a work in progress.

Through the ups and downs, Flinn remains full of admiration for the way the 18-year-old has carried himself.

"We are only four games in, and I think LaMelo, he's just a joy to be around, he loves the game, his enthusiasm for the game is infectious," he said. "You see him tonight; he balls out and genuinely his first and last love is playing basketball and that's fun to be around."

Of course, there were actually two teams playing on Saturday night, with the Phoenix becoming the first expansion NBL franchise to move to 3-0, with a 106-102 win, though it's certainly arguable the result was inconsequential for a large portion of the crowd.

The 'LaMelo show' will now pack up and roll out of Melbourne, with its next visit coming on December 28, once again against the Phoenix at Melbourne Arena.

It wasn't the result the Hawks were hoping for on Saturday night, though for the league, the LaMelo Ball signing is proving to be worth every cent.