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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rising above: Ben McLemore elevates above adversity

Kansas guard Ben McLemore flashes his tongue after a put-back dunk against Emporia State during the second half, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore flashes his tongue after a put-back dunk against Emporia State during the second half, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

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Kansas guard Ben McLemore flashes his tongue after a put-back dunk against Emporia State during the second half, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

He rises up, winds up, throws down a monster dunk, and in a blink 16,300 spectators also rise up and roar approval. All of them wish they could do the same. Ben McLemore smiles and sprints so smoothly to the other end of the court.

What must it be like to be McLemore, Kansas University basketball star, floating sky-walker, owner of a million-dollar smile and a jump shot to match?

For a little insight, listen to his response when asked to name the happiest day of his life.

“The happiest day of my life is every day just being here,” McLemore said during a one-on-one interview Wednesday. “Waking up every morning and being able to see my family, my teammates, my coaches and being able to play basketball, the game I love.”

But before thinking he has it all, that his life can’t get any better and his heart never aches, consider his answer when asked to identify the saddest day of his life.

“The saddest day of my life is every day, not being able to see my big brother,” McLemore said. “Him not being able to see my first game. Him not seeing me play anymore. That’s pretty sad. I can’t bring him here by wishing to God he was here. That definitely is the saddest thing in my life.”

Ben’s brother Keith Scott, eight years his senior, is locked up in maximum-security Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Springs, Mo., for “things he did that he wishes he never did,” Ben said. “When I go back home for Christmas break, I have a chance to visit him. He’s been in almost five years now. His birthday’s on Christmas Day.”

Ben remembers the first time he dunked on his older brother in St. Louis, their hometown.

“We were playing at the Rec Center, and I caught him by surprise,” McLemore said. “I guess he didn’t think I could do it. He chased me down on the fast break. I jumped and dunked it on him and he was like, ‘Wow! That’s my little brother?’ I think I was a freshman in high school. I had fun playing against him. He had fun playing against me.”

Ben McLemore III, son of Sonya Reid, is the fourth of her five children.

“I learned a lot from my three older sisters growing up,” McLemore said. “I look up to them, and they tell me things they went through, and they tell me they don’t want me to do those same things.”

He listens and in turn dispenses advice to his younger brother, Kevin, a senior on the Normandy High basketball team in St. Louis, where, older brother Ben proudly pointed out, Kevin totaled 15 points, seven assists and five steals in a recent game. Kevin’s the last of the McLemore basketball players, but far from the first.

Ben said he inherited his smile from his mother, his athletic gifts from his father, Ben McLemore II.

“People who saw my dad play in high school, they tell me, ‘Your pop, he was nice. He used to run the Spectrum, he used to take over and dunk on people. It was crazy.’ The court we played on at the Spectrum in St. Louis, there was a hoop that was taller (than regulation). People tell me there was only one guy who dunked on that hoop. Then my dad dunked on it, and there were two guys then,” McLemore said, smiling. “He surprised me before one of my games this year, came to my room. I was shocked, almost came to tears. I hadn’t seen him in a while.”

In October of 2011, he experienced a shock of a different sort along with teammate and classmate Jamari Traylor. They were told that the NCAA ruled they would not be allowed to participate in practice or games the first semester of their freshman year, but could earn with success in the classroom the right to practice without playing in games second semester.

“My heart broke down,” McLemore said. “Still, in my head I thought maybe this is a blessing, maybe God did this for a reason. And it was a blessing. I took it and told myself I’m not going to let that stop me. I’m going to work hard every day on and off the court.”

McLemore fell just short of a 3.0 grade-point average first semester and studied his way onto the Big 12 honor roll second semester with a GPA that exceeded 3.0.

“That means a lot to me,” McLemore said. “I worked very hard last year on my academics, and my mom was proud of me.”

He’s not bashful in taking pride in his basketball accomplishments during that time.

“Second semester came around, and we were eligible,” he said. “Our first practice was at Sprint Center, and it was a great practice. I decided then I was going to take every practice like it was game night. We got better, and our teammates got better, and as you can see, we made it to the Final Four and the championship game.”

Seven games into his college career, McLemore leads the team in scoring (14.9 points per game) and free-throw percentage (.840), ranks second in steals and dunks and third in rebounds and blocked shots.

Numbers can’t capture what McLemore said he believes life as a student at KU has done for his personal development.

“I love it here,” McLemore said. “I’m learning to take on more responsibility with different things in my life, not needing as much help with things. Going to college, you want to learn how to do things and not always ask for help. It’s nice to be able to say, ‘OK, I can do that on my own. I’m becoming a man now.’”

He said he played football as a sophomore and junior in high school and was used as a wide receiver, tight end, defensive end, punter and kicker. He said he played some baseball and was used as a center fielder, but his first love never has changed.

“I just remember picking up a basketball and dribbling and thinking, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to play basketball.’ I grew up in a basketball family, and it just excited me to play basketball,” he said. “I always used to get a basketball for Christmas.”

McLemore’s signature play, the one-handed dunk, mirrors what he has done in life to this point. He has risen up above his surroundings. Nothing about the way he conducts himself suggests that he will allow basketball to use him. He already seems to understand he can use basketball to carve out a better life. He makes his primary goal in life sound so simple.

“I just want to make my family proud,” McLemore said.

Comments

Ralster Jayhawk 1 year, 4 months ago

McLemore, already with the photogenic face, already with Jordan-like hops, already with Jordan-like swagger, and already wearing #23. Go for the whole enchilada by wearing the hair with an almost-shaved, close-cropped style...He could remind the whole country of MJ (which is an ultimate compliment to da Man, MJ). Its all good. Loved MJ, and really like what BMac has shown us so far...

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Suzi Marshall 1 year, 4 months ago

Sounds like a great young man. Last thing BMac needs to do is think about the NBA. He should concentrate on his defense, scoring, rebounding and helping his team win. If he/we get the numbers we all hope for, he'll do just fine. Enjoy the day, seize the moment.

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Jack Wilson 1 year, 4 months ago

Go listen to Self's press conference. Very interesting on the back up PG situation.

Coupled with his previous comments, it seems like Tharpe's spot is in serious jeopardy. Seems like he wants to go in a different direction talking about getting into the paint and defending the paint.

Will be interesting to see the playing time situation Saturday; when Adams gets in; when Tharpe is in.

Wow.

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COHawk10 1 year, 4 months ago

Well that didn't format properly at all...

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COHawk10 1 year, 4 months ago

-Ben is awesome! I did pick him as the leading scorer in that poll a couple months ago. -You always take the dunk; how is that even a question? -I don't buy us playing much/any zone. Not until I see it. -Not anticipating Travis or KY playing any point. EJ slowly looking healthier, hope his "nicked up" knee, and that hard fall in the last game aren't setbacks. -Brad Star isn't a starter on this team, cuz 1, 2 and 3 (so no moving Travis over) are already filled, but he's still a great bench player and probably continues to be the human highlight real. -More than a week is WAAYYYYYY too long to go in between games!

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Jonathan Allison 1 year, 4 months ago

Is it Saturday yet? I'm not getting enough of my hoops fix on this website

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Tony Bandle 1 year, 4 months ago

Different subject.....maybe the current Kentucky Frosh Class of 2012 is feeling the pressure of being sandwiched in between the '11 Class that won Calipari's first NC and the Class of '13 which has already been the annointed greatest frosh class in NCAA history??

Ideally, none of them would declare for the draft and 'Ole Uncle Cal would be up to his ass in alligators!!!

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Konkis Dongington III 1 year, 4 months ago

As if we needed further proof that BMac was going to OAD at Kansas:

http://www.nbadraft.net/mock-draft-tracker-17

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DanR 1 year, 4 months ago

Hopefully, here we go (screen grab from Ben's dunk):

None

by DanR

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DanR 1 year, 4 months ago

Well that didn't work (tried to insert a photo)....

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Reuben_J_Cogburn 1 year, 4 months ago

Please stop with the Michael Jordan references.

The kid is a fantastic athlete and will be a lottery pick in the 2013 draft. But come on, people. Comparing any college basketball player to Michael Jordan is absurd.

By this train of thought, it would be like comparing Jake Heaps to Brett Favre if Heaps wins his first 3 games next year with great numbers.

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phogphan2000 1 year, 4 months ago

Mostly great comments by folks, and I'll add that it was also a well written article.

It's just great anytime you see someone not taking the good things in their life for granted. He's not out there complaining about things that didn't go his way, he wishes it was a perfect world but relishes the wonderful things about life. If he feels ready to make the move as a man to the NBA that's great, we all know he'll be ready as a basketball player. If he decides to stay at KU and develop into the team leader/captain next year and continue to grow at KU, that would be wonderful as well. He sounds mature enough to decide which will make him the happiest.

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JayHulk 1 year, 4 months ago

BEN IS GREAT PLAYER, BUT HULK SORRY, HE NO MICHAEL JORDAN. THAT LIKE SAYING THE THING IS AS GREAT AS HULK!

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Jeff Schartz 1 year, 4 months ago

Ben seems like the kind of person that I would be proud to have as a friend.

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Tony Bandle 1 year, 4 months ago

Being in St.Louis and watching Ben play and knowing what an incredible human being he was, I hesitated to tell you all but rather decided to let you see for yourselves...you wouldn't have believed me, anyway.

Remember, this was a young man who wanted to be a Jayhawk for a very long time, yet had to win over every teammate, friend and family member who all wanted him to go to Missouri.

Given the opportunity, he will go to the NBA next year, but not for the personal glory and fame...he will go, first and foremost, to take care of his family.

Eliminate all the basketball skills and what you have left is one hell of an incredible individual......a true credit to Jayhawk Nation!!

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bhol 1 year, 4 months ago

I love this guy. Enjoy him while he's here, because he won't be wearing a Jayhawk uniform beyond the tournament. Can't wait to see him ball in the NBA! He's got more potential to star in the NBA than any recent Jayhawk.

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Ron Prichard 1 year, 4 months ago

"It’s nice to be able to say, ‘OK, I can do that on my own. I’m becoming a man now.’" What an outstanding comment from a young kid...or should I say, young man.

From day one I have loved watching McLemore just glide up and down the floor. Comparisons to Jordan are way premature, but McLemore is one of the very few players I have ever seen that moves so fast and so smooth while making it look effortless. If you asked 100 people to describe his game, I bet at least 90 would use the words, "glide, float, smooth, effortless, amazingly athletic," and so on. He truly is a joy to watch on the court. After reading this article, hearing some of McLemore's quotes and learning just a little bit about him off the court, it sounds like he is a great young man and I am even happier he is a Jayhawk.

I get so excited when I think how much talent is on this team and what I believe they will look like in Feb-March when Self has had time to mold them into what he wants.

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hucking_fawks_rock 1 year, 4 months ago

Ben is the first Jayhawk I've seen since Rush who exceeded my expectations by far for an incoming player. His ability to do whatever he wants when he has the ball in his hand is just an absolute joy to watch. He'll get his 3 ball stroke come Big12 time, but right now he's still getting into the groove of a real college game. What a great kid to watch out there, so much fun. Normally Jaybate, I'd rip all over you for comparing this kid to Jordan. I didn't watch Jordan in college, so I don't know what his game was like, but the kid sure floats around the rim like Jordan did in the NBA...

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Brianna Zaleski 1 year, 4 months ago

Did I miss something? Ben has an older brother and 3 older sisters, yet he (Ben) is the fourth of his mother, Sonya's, 5 children. And a younger brother Kevin. Does that add up? Or is it just too early and I haven't had my coffee? For the record, I'm not a grammar Nazi, like Jaybate, these totals just struck me as wrong. Ben seems like a great kid who just might return for another year if he loves it here as much as he says he does

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jhox 1 year, 4 months ago

What a great young man he is. You hear Self's comments about him (being the total package, great athlete, great basketball player, very coachable, pleasure to be around) and it makes you thankful he came to KU. I can't imagine we'll have him beyond this season as he looks like a sure thing lottery pick, probably even top 5, so we just need to enjoy the Ben show while he's here.

(Ben, if you happen to read this, enjoy every second of your time as a college student. Every former KU player I've known who went on to play pro ball has said essentially the same thing. The money is nice, but there is nothing to compare to playing basketball at KU and playing in Allen Field House. Soak it up young man, and thanks for being such a great representative for KU.)

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nuleafjhawk 1 year, 4 months ago

Ben sounds like a great kid, and I can see for myself that he's a great basketball player.

For me, every time he has the ball in his hands I feel like something good is going to happen. I have a lot of confidence in him.

We've had a lot of great players over the years, but I haven't had this same feeling about a player since Danny Manning ! I'm not sure I'm ready to compare Ben to DM yet, but I get that same warm, fuzzy feeling.....

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jaybate 1 year, 4 months ago

"Thursday Thunks or Thought Dunks While Wishing It Was Friday"

• Talent and skill wise, Ben seems very comparable to Jordan at the same age.

• If basketball were mostly about athleticism, Ben would be in the BHOF already.

• Like Mike, the jury is out on his outside J as a young player. Looks unstoppable sometimes, but undroppable others.

• 7 games in he is shooting only 31% from trey against weak competition. Defenses are going to get alot better and tougher in January. Still, it would only take a 2-game tear at this point to get his trey percentage back to decent. But can he shoot 40% for a season?

• At 29%, so far, this team sucks from trey. Gotta get better.

• EJ, despite 1.5 knees is, at 36% from trey and so near his career average. Trav's career average is well under 40%. So these two do not appear likely to shoot the team's trey percentages back to respectability.

• The team's chances of becoming a respectable trey shooting team hinge on Ben, Naadir, and AW3 moving beyond "supposed to be good trey shooters." So far, we are seeing alot of Conner Teahans--streak shooters with practice reputations that don't translate to games, when opposing teams scouting reports have identified their favorite spots to take away. And as Conner learned last year, the scouting report takes more and more of your sweet spots away as the season progresses.

• I love the dunk as much as any one, but each time Ben (or anyone else) skies through the air and dunks, it is a 2-pt play, not a fouled layup with a make and a FT for a three point play. Statistically, in terms of lost 3-pt opportunities, the dunk is like being suckered into a mid range game by a Self defense. The question becomes: is dunking strategically sound? Does its high percentage for two offset the high percentage lay up with a FT? Used to think yes, but now not so sure.

• We need Jeff to get his FT accuracy back.

• I wonder if there is any historical tendency for trey shooting accuracy to higher first, or second semester?

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TXChalker 1 year, 4 months ago

So looking forward to watching Ben this season. Good things will be coming his way.

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Jim Erickson 1 year, 4 months ago

It looks like I probably won't be back in the good ole' USA until the 2014-2015 season. I wouldn't bet on it, but I would love to see B-Mac, Frankamp, and Ellis all together when I get back!

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Hurinfan 1 year, 4 months ago

I love this guy. I've only heard great things about him and he is probably our first justifiable one and done.

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