It didn’t take Ben McLemore long to remind his Kansas University basketball teammates of what they’re missing this season and what they can look forward to during the 2012-13 campaign.
The 6-foot-5 freshman from St. Louis — who along with 6-8 Chicago frosh Jamari Traylor was declared a partial qualifier in October, thus ineligible to practice first semester and ineligible to play in games all season — rammed a highlight-reel dunk to conclude his first official practice as a Jayhawk two weeks ago, before the Davidson game in Sprint Center.
That dunk — in which McLemore stands behind the three-point line, tosses the ball high in the air toward the goal, then elevates above the rim to catch his own pass and finish a left-handed jam — is available at the web address http://youtu.be/XxuvzaQ66rI.
“That was our first practice. I wanted to show I’ve still got the ups, hops and stuff,” McLemore said Thursday after KU’s 89-34 victory over Howard. “It got a lot of views on YouTube. It was a good experience. The first day of practice was worth it.”
McLemore and Traylor, who cannot play in today’s 3 p.m., nonconference clash against North Dakota, would like to feel they still will have an impact on the game.
Since passing a full load of classwork first semester, they’ve been allowed to practice against the rotation players every day and thus, in theory, make the squad better.
“Practice ... Jamari and I love it,” McLemore said. “T-Rob (Thomas Robinson), Elijah (Johnson) ... they say they like us in practice because we bring a lot of intensity. I mean we’re basically trying to get the starters better. We get out there hustling, playing defense, playing aggressive. They can take what we did in practice onto the real court. We are basically trying to help them get better and they get us better, too.”
It’s working out well, junior guard Johnson said.
“They are out there making a big difference,” Johnson stated. “It’s so much fun you don’t even think about being tired. Since they’ve been there the level of competition has shot out the roof. It’s their game. They are going hard and getting the most out of it.”
Traylor — he averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds last season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., while McLemore split time at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., and Christian Life Center in Houston — agrees he’s been bringing game-like effort to practices.
“We want to go out and show them (teammates) what we are made of,” Traylor said. “Coach (Bill Self) is really tough on the guys. At the same time, he is kind of humorous,” Traylor added of early observations. “Coach (Danny) Manning helps me a lot. He shows me the little things on my game I can work on. I’m learning a lot.”
During first semester, Traylor and McLemore had to practice on their own.
“We’d find a couple of guys to play with on the court, find somewhere to play ball, get in the gym and get shots up on our own and play each other 1-on-1,” Traylor said.
They also hit the books hard.
Self recently said one of the two had a 3.3 GPA, the other a 3.2. He also said both would be rotation players if currently eligible.
“Initially when I first came to school, I wanted to play. That wasn’t the ruling, so I had to swallow my pill I guess,” Traylor said. “I had to focus on my schoolwork. We did really well in school so we can play next year and practice this semester (in accordance with NCAA rules). We dedicated ourselves. We go to tutoring, make sure we are in class on time every day, make sure we do all our assignments, try to stay tuned in so we can do everything on the court.”
Added McLemore: “We go to tutoring every day faithfully, do what it takes to be on the court.”
They finally are allowed to be true members of the team. They can sit on the bench during games, whereas first semester they sat in the stands.
“Behind the bench is the worst spot to be,” McLemore said. “Being on the bench ... you get to be with the players.”
“I get to give everybody high-fives now. It’s a lot more exciting,” Traylor stated.
Nothing will compare to next season when the two are eligible to compete in games with four years of eligibility remaining if they choose to be in college four years.
McLemore enters college as Rivals.com’s No. 34-rated player in the Class of 2011; Traylor No. 141.
“We’ll be more prepared with the other freshmen coming in,” Traylor said. “I look at the bright side. We’ll have a lot more knowledge, and we’ll be more physically prepared for next year.”
“We’ve put in a lot of work,” McLemore said. “We’ve been together a lot. Pretty much next year, we’ll have a good chemistry with each other and the other freshmen.”
McLemore and Traylor pretty much are inseparable, though Ben rooms with Niko Roberts; Jamari with Christian Garrett.
“We might as well have been (roommates),” Traylor said with a laugh. “I’m always in his room; he’s always in my room. We’re together 90 percent of the time.”
Today’s foe: Defending Great West Conference tournament champion North Dakota enters with a 5-7 record. The Fighting Sioux are 5-1 at home and 0-6 on the road. Sophomore guard Troy Huff averages a team-leading 13.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Aaron Anderson averages 12.2 ppg and soph guard Jamal Webb 11.6 ppg, just ahead of senior forward Patrick Mitchell’s 11.4 ppg average.
“Kurtis (Townsend, KU assistant) has the scout, and he says they’re good,” Self said. “They’re going to be real good. They’re just young.”
North Dakota has lost to Western Illinois (twice), Sacramento State, South Dakota State, UMKC, Idaho State and Bradley. UND has beaten Waldorf, Idaho State, Montana, Jamestown and S.D. State.
UND is located in Grand Forks, N.D., and has an enrollment of 14,194.
All-time series: KU leads, 2-0. The Jayhawks won, 92-61, on Nov. 17, 2000, in Allen Fieldhouse and returned to UND the following season for Valley City, N.D., native Jeff Boschee. Boschee scored 23 points as KU prevailed, 108-77, on Dec. 22, 2001. Nick Collison added 16. There was a fierce blizzard the day of that game but it didn’t scare off the fans. UND had a then-attendance record 13,280 in the stands.