NBA’s Rookie of the Year award has Hornets’ LaMelo Ball motivated for next season

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LaMelo Ball said he always expected to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. But his expectations weren’t able to contain his excitement when he first found out.

“It’s probably something I’m never going to forget,” Ball said Wednesday night.

Ball learned he won Rookie of the Year on Wednesday when teammate Miles Bridges surprised him with the award. Ball was talking to a camera crew after one of his workouts while on the way to the Hornets’ team store. Meanwhile, Bridges was plotting behind the scenes, as he hid Ball’s Rookie of the Year award behind a jersey that was hanging up.

Eventually Bridges entered and room and the two talked. Bridges led Ball toward the jersey and pulled it back for Ball to see.

“I definitely did not know,” Ball said of the surprise. “Because all the stuff, it says ROTY, Rookie of the Year. It says that everywhere. I’m thinking like, maybe a little campaign. Like ‘Melo, oh, you’re in the running. We want you to win.’ So I’m thinking, ‘Oh, cool. They gave me a little jersey.’

“And he’s like, ‘Bruh you’re not even looking. And then when he moved it again, I was like huh. And then when I saw it, I was like ‘Ohhh, all right.’ It was cool.”

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Ball averaged 15.7 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds this past season and won the award despite missing 21 games with a fractured right wrist suffered in late March that threatened to end his season. He later returned for the Hornets’ last 11 games.

Ball, who received 84 of the 99 first-place votes, won the award over Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards, who averaged 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists and Sacramento’s Tyrese Haliburton, who averaged 13 points and 5.3 assists.

Ball’s award capped a stellar season for the 19-year-old, who entered the league as the No. 3 pick with all eyes on him.

He was the third player in franchise history to win the award. Larry Johnson and Emeka Okafor were the others.

“I felt like me coming back helped that much more,” Ball said of returning from his injury. “But I don’t like missing games, and just want to help my team win.”

In the Hornets last 11 games, Ball averaged 15 points, six assists and 5.7 rebounds.

The Hornets finished the 2020-21 season 33-39, good for 10th place in the Eastern Conference. They played in the play-in game but lost to the Indiana Pacers, ending their season on a five-game losing streak.

Ball is currently participating in offseason workouts at the facility. He said winning the award motivates him even further.

“Definitely next season I want to come in with this little boost and pretty much looking forward to next season now,” Ball said. “That’s what we’re all working out for. That’s what we’re all here for. Pretty much just trying to get better every day.”

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