Kansas’ McLemore to showcase talents next year
- May. 1, 2012
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Ben McLemore saw them sitting on a stage by the court at Wellston High School in St. Louis. During a district postseason game, Kansas assistant coaches Kurtis Townsend and Joe Dooley were in attendance. Warming up before the game, McLemore saw their Kansas shirts. Scouts from all over had watched him play in his junior season, when he switched positions from a forward to a guard.
But when Kansas was in the house, McLemore said, something was different.
On the first play of the game, McLemore finished an alley-oop dunk and screamed toward the crowd. Townsend and Dooley noticed from the stage.
“I played good that night,” McLemore said.
McLemore noticed that once Kansas took interest in him, Missouri faded as a possibility. He soon chose to play at Kansas, but the NCAA obstructed his path by ruling him a partial qualifier after he attended three high schools — Wellston, Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., and Christian Life Center in Houston.
Instead of beginning his time in Lawrence as a slashing scorer for the Jayhawks, McLemore watched from the sidelines as a redshirt freshman who would be eligible to play in the 2012-13 season. Forward Jamari Traylor joined him there after he was also ruled a partial qualifier.
Bradley Beal, McLemore’s former teammate in St. Louis, starred at Florida as a freshman this season, and Beal could go as high as No. 2 in this summer’s NBA Draft. McLemore also knows Duke’s Austin Rivers and Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who are off to the NBA as well.
“It’s kind of weird that all the people I came in here with are leaving now,” McLemore said.
But he didn’t want a situation like that. McLemore saw what happened to Thomas Robinson at Kansas. He saw how Robinson braved tragedy with his school by his side. Then, this season from the sideline, he watched Robinson morph into one of the top players in the nation.
“I want to be one of those players,” McLemore said.
McLemore tried to make the most of the opportunities he had this season.
He and Traylor watched their teammates make mistakes, then they talked about it. They rapped or joked in the locker room when the team needed a laugh. They digested what their coaches preached.
“Sitting on the sideline with Larry Brown every game,” Traylor said. “He’s telling you tips all the time.”
Coach Bill Self has been pleased with how both players have handled the irregular situation.
“I’m really proud of them,” Self said. “The NCAA put some very strict stipulations on them, and they blew those away, so I’m very happy for them.”
As a forward in his freshman and sophomore years in high school, McLemore didn’t have to create shots or defend quick dribblers. When he became a guard as a high school junior, he started to learn how to shoot with range, dribble and drive.
These are still the areas that McLemore is working on. He practices two-ball dribbling and coming off screens with the left hand. He shoots every day and lifts weights multiple times a week.
While he wasn’t able to help the Jayhawks on the road to New Orleans this season, he said it was valuable to practice against Robinson’s strength and Tyshawn Taylor’s speed. McLemore said he will use what he learned against both players to prepare himself for future opponents.
And, if that means getting schooled by Taylor, so be it.
While McLemore has struggled to defend both Robinson and Taylor, that doesn’t mean it’s a one-sided show. There was one practice, McLemore said, when he was unstoppable.
“They don’t like trying to chase me around,” McLemore said of his teammates in practice.
Both Robinson and Taylor are gone. Now McLemore has his time to lead the Jayhawks. Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Kevin Young, Justin Wesley and Naadir Tharpe will return. Newcomers will include Perry Ellis, Andrew White, Landen Lucas, Zach Peters and Anrio Adams.
Kansas won’t change because it lost Taylor and Robinson. Self will still preach the importance of defense, but most of the Jayhawks’ struggles this season were on the offensive side of the ball.
McLemore, who will be eligible to play, wants to be the answer — with his improved ballhandling and a smoother jump shot. He’s had a full year on the sideline to picture it.
“Now I can say I’m here,” McLemore said. “I’m fully a Kansas basketball player now.”
Edited by Corinne Westeman