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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Keegan

Opinion: Ben McLemore’s game never stops soaring

Kansas guard Ben McLemore soars in for a bucket and a foul from Ohio State guard Shannon Scott during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore soars in for a bucket and a foul from Ohio State guard Shannon Scott during the second half on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 at Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self talks after Ohio State win

Kansas coach Bill Self talks after his team's 74-66 victory over Ohio State on Dec. 22, 2012.

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Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Jeff Withey, Ben McLemore

Kansas players Jeff Withey and Ben McLemore talk after the Jayhawks' 74-66 victory over Ohio State on Dec. 22, 2012.

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Box score

KU-Ohio State

— For a second-half stretch that ate 10 minutes and nine seconds Saturday, the No. 7 college basketball team in the nation didn’t make a single field goal playing on its home floor in front of 19,049 spectators.

Then again, in defeating Ohio State, 74-66, No. 9 Kansas had a defensive advantage that no other team can claim. It didn’t have to figure out a way to prevent red-shirt freshman Ben McLemore from scoring.

Playing the first true road game of his college career, McLemore scored a game-high 22 points in 36 minutes of action.

Both coaches raved about him afterward, Ohio State’s Thad Matta calling him “as good as any player in the country.”

“I’ve never had anybody like this guy,” Kansas coach Bill Self marveled after an impressive victory that if justice is served will result in Kansas moving into the top five in the rankings. “Brandon (Rush) is the closest. Brandon shot it better early in his career. Brandon slid a little better defensively, but Ben can impact the game more because he’s a better scorer than Brandon. Brandon was a shooter. Ben’s more of a shooter and a scorer.”

Not to mention a soarer and a scorer. On an out-of-bounds lob play, McLemore was looking way down at the rim when he caught the ball before flushing it. On another lob, he fumbled the ball and still was able to get his own rebound for a tip-in and a free throw.

“He makes plays you can’t coach,” Self said. “You throw the ball to the rim twice and he comes away with five points. You run average offense and pitch it to him, he jumps up and over somebody and makes a shot. That’s not great offense, that’s just a good player. ... He made plays that really you have to make in close games because you’re not going to score off of your stuff. People scout you.”

McLemore made all three of his free throws and shot 3-for-6 from three-point land. He scored on two dunks, two mid-range jumpers off the dribble and a tip-in. He has so many different means of scoring and is so good at creating his own shot that the sort of field-goal drought Ohio State suffered isn’t likely to hit Kansas in a game.

McLemore’s longest second-half field-goal drought (7:02) was more than three minutes shorter than the one experienced by the entire Buckeyes’ team.

“He’s fun to coach because you can tinker around and draw up some plays you can’t draw up for anybody else and just throw it up there,” Self said.

Players tend to show great improvement over their careers under Self. Since McLemore is more talented and is likely to have a shorter college career than most of Self’s players, it’s not surprising his growth curve is faster.

Self knows how to maintain the delicate balance of getting after players to do things his way while still creating an atmosphere that fosters confidence, at least for those who do what he wants. McLemore is so coachable his coach called him a “sponge.”

“The coaches give him a lot of confidence,” senior Travis Releford said. “And we give him confidence. ... We encourage him to make plays and tell him, ‘If you mess up, don’t even worry about it. Think next play.’”

McLemore’s defensive improvement has kept pace with his scoring. Lenzelle Smith Jr., McLemore’s primary assignment Saturday, scored six points, five-and-a-half below his average.

“He tries so hard,” said Releford, the team’s top perimeter defender. “When we watch tape, coach shows every little detail for the team. And all the little stuff, it counts. It helps us out a lot.”

Predictably, the first hostile crowd didn’t derail McLemore. At all levels of basketball, the better the player, the less his game falls off away from home.

“This experience was great,” McLemore said. “It was my first time playing an away game in front of this type of crowd. At first, I was a little nervous. That’s what happens your first game away. (After) going up and down the court just a little bit, I just played my game and stayed with the intensity.”

McLemore never looks anything but graceful on a basketball court, even at a high speeds and when executing power moves. He never looks as if he’s forcing it, never looks off balance. He plays basketball the way Rory McIlroy swings a golf club. And often, when he makes a mistake, it’s because he doesn’t realize he’s good enough to make the obvious play. One such mistake occurred in the final minute when he received the ball against the full-court press. Instead of just blowing by his man on the dribble, he threw an errant bounce pass sideways to a slipping Elijah Johnson for one of the freshman’s four turnovers.

“Ben is an unbelievable talent, but he’s still trying to figure out how to play,” Self said. “You can tell in late-game situations. He’s played less basketball (in big games) as anybody who’s as old as him who’s that good, so it’s all new to him. When he figures out how to put himself in situations and figures out time, score and momentum and it becomes natural to him, he’s going to become terrific, and right now he’s really good. He’s a natural scorer. He makes it look pretty effortless the way he scores.”

The means of scoring and preventing others from doing the same constantly expand for the potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. As his confidence and game continue to soar, so too will Kansas up the rankings.

Comments

MizzouSportsSuck1 2 years ago

Every time he touches the ball, I just appreciate it. It's like a good scotch. Because, after April, he will be gone. Fleeting.

Andrew Dunlap 2 years ago

so true. he's the best player we've had since Paul Pierce. Hopefully, he can carry us all the way to New Orleans and a ring. he won't be here after that, and that's cool. get paid, young man!

Tracy Atherton 2 years ago

Not since Danny Manning have I enjoyed watching a freshman more than Ben McLemore. What a BB treasure for this year's team and for dispelling the opinion on the recruiting trail (post Josh Selby) that KU is not a destination place for the highest level 1st year players. Coach Self and Ben McLemore are a great compliment to one another.

Ken Sedgwick 2 years ago

I hope Ben is having as much fun as it appears.

hawk316 2 years ago

I hope he's having so much fun that he wants to do it again next year...in Lawrence. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

And kudos to Mr. Keegan for a very fine article. I really enjoyed it.

johnnyphoton 2 years ago

Hard not think what might have been had Ben been able to play on last year's team. Would have loved seeing him get after Can'tucky.

DCLawHawk 2 years ago

Amen to that. I would love a shot at KY in the finals last year with BMac in the lineup, but I will settle for knocking KY out in this year's Final Four. I think we can get there. We need more consistency at the four spot, but I think the light bulb will go on for Perry Ellis sometime in February. This is already a fun team to watch.

texashawk10 2 years ago

Kentucky this year won't make it past the first weekend. Kentucky will finish 3rd at best in the SEC this year behind Florida and that school east of Lawrence. Gators are the only SEC team that will be a threat to reach the Final Four this year.

Mel Clare 2 years ago

They lost to K State tonight in KC..............

Boouk 2 years ago

I hope you're right about UK, but you probably aren't.

texashawk10 2 years ago

Can you imagine KU last year with McLemore AND Selby if Selby would've had the common sense to come back to get his draft stock back up. Selby played very well before his foot injury and I think would've been a very special player had he come back. A starting lineup of Selby, Taylor, EJ/McLemore because I don't know if McLemore cracks last years lineup with a healthy Selby in the mix, Withey and T-Rob with Releford, Young, and EJ/McLemore off the bench. That would've been a sick rotation and a team that would've had a very strong chance to cut the nets down.

Dirk Medema 2 years ago

That is crazy deep and talented, but you forgot Conner.

:-)

Mike Barnhart 2 years ago

Tinman Selby ha, ha, ha ... no thanks!

Curtis Stutz 2 years ago

Just so long as KU wins it all this year I won't worry about the what if :D No, I'm just glad he's a Jayhawk!

John Randall 2 years ago

Ben's (and Jamari's) season wasn't wasted last year. Remember how much our six or seven who could play improved after MacLemore and Traylor began practicing against them in late December?

LAJayhawk 2 years ago

And how much both improved being able to practice everyday with the team. BMac is a natural talent, but he undoubtedly got MUCH better from practicing under Self since Dec. '11.

Joel Thomas 2 years ago

Keegs aiming high projecting McLemore number one overall. Not that I disagree. Bittersweet draft. Imagine he turns it down? Anyhow, very good game by McLemore. Nice to see Tharpe play well, Ellis get some PT (and even Adams). Young doing (and Traylor imitating) the great deek shoot/pass. This team is better than last's.

LAJayhawk 2 years ago

As much as I would love it, you just can't turn down the number 1 pick... or top 5... or the lottery at all really. Just too much guaranteed money. And BMac has WAAAAAAYYYY too much talent not to have a long, solid NBA career (barring injury, of course).

texashawk10 2 years ago

Most mock drafts already have him as a top 5 pick and there isn't a clear cit cut #1that this year so McLemore is going to have a chance to go #1 if he keeps it up.

hbjayhawk 2 years ago

The big question is...are we gonna lose again? This KU team is VERY special

Dirk Medema 2 years ago

There's always one mid-semester funk on the road.

Mike Barnhart 2 years ago

Let's hope so. A mid-season loss is a required Bill Self "coachable moment." It refocuses the team and deflates the over-inflated egos.

akgjenkintown 2 years ago

Likely. It is hard to win every game on the road in the BigXII. ISU, OSU, KSU, Texas and even Baylor can bring it on any given night. It is rare to go unscathed through our conference. Although we as fans are happy about KU's progress over the last 4 games other teams are also improving. Look what KSU did last night to Florida and Temple, who KU plays soon, beat #3 Syracuse. Enjoy the process.

LAJayhawk 2 years ago

18-0 in the Big 12? That's really, really, really, really, really, really hard, regardless of how good/talented of a team you have. We'll lose somewhere. Likely (and hopefully) away from the Phog.

Kevin Huffman 1 year, 12 months ago

They seem to ALWAYS lose at Stillwater & right now they seem to be the next best Big XII team. Will be hard for us to find an answer for Marcus Smart I think.

Michael Luby 2 years ago

Of course we will lose again. In this day and age of Xtreme Muscle ball as Jaybate so eloquently puts it, Its not possible to go 40-0 in Men's College ball. I agree with HBJ though, this team is very special right now. the question is can they make a 6 game run in the NCAA's like last years team did? Its gonna be a tough one. I think they can though.

Dirk Medema 2 years ago

6 instead of 5 like last year's team.

Scott MacWilliams 2 years ago

Okay folks, lets get realistic here.

As I've been telling all my friends out here in Eugene, OR, home of the Ducks, last years KU team was, on paper, the weakest team we've had in maybe 20 years. No Mcd AA's, walkons playing significant amounts of time, I mean, come on!!

Okay, okay, we had beast named TRob and streaky (until Jan12) PG in Tyshawn, but really no preseason hype for Final Four potential. And we get to the NC game anyway.

Now we've got 4 seniors who know and flow the KU system, and baby BMac whose skillset is climbing in a suborbital trajectory to say the least, and looks to me like we have some REAL potential this year. I like it!!!

Rock the Chalk dudes!!!

hawk316 2 years ago

I'm reminded of Michael Jordan's freshman year at North Carolina...

TheBoHawk 2 years ago

Finally, the game where Tharpe becomes a Jayhawk. This dude was no scrub outta high school, but I had my doubts...until tonight. He outplayed EJ from a PG standpoint. Releford almost has to stay in from a D standpoint but It would be interesting to see HCBS tinker with the lineup to shift Releford back to a true F defensively to shift EG back to the SG position and have Tharpe run PG during our weaker Big XII schedule, for experience's sake. i think it might give EJ a chance to work on his in game shooting and be more shot fluent come tourney time.

actorman 2 years ago

It was indeed great to see Tharpe finally emerge. I was shocked to hear Clark Kellogg (whom I normally like) make the bizarre comment that Tharpe has been coming through for KU all year. Did anyone else notice that?

TheBoHawk 2 years ago

Wow... never liked Clark Kellogg as an analyst.. always thought he was very very weak.. I'd take Mitch Holthaus' (sp?) analytical opinion before his... seriously.

LAJayhawk 2 years ago

Better than the odious Billy Packer.

HawkKlaw 2 years ago

This! Tharpe is coming into his own right before our eyes each and every game this season. He's exactly what we need at the backup PG spot this year. I think he has the potential to be the starter at KU for the next couple of years if he can keep up his effective play.

hawk316 2 years ago

Tharpe looks like he's finally getting his "sea legs." Every player is a little different in how quickly they "get it." Some blossom as freshmen, some as sophomores, some not until their 3rd or 4th year, and, of course, some never quite get there. I'm happy for Tharpe. I know it's been a struggle for him, but he's really looking much more comfortable and confident on the court now. And just in time.

addlime 2 years ago

I think a phone call from RussRob can do a lot to inspire these pg's to hang in there.

archercc 1 year, 12 months ago

I think he has more than potential to be a starter. I think at the point he will likely be our man. He is considerably more natural at the spot this year over last and should probably run the point more as the team progresses this year. Its not EJs natural position, he really just had to take it on as the older guy who knows the play.

With all of the minutes he is getting this season there is really no reason he shouldn't be our starting point next year if he continues to progress.

jaybate 2 years ago

“I’ve never had anybody like this guy. Brandon (Rush) is the closest. Brandon shot it better early in his career. Brandon slid a little better defensively, but Ben can impact the game more because he’s a better scorer than Brandon. Brandon was a shooter. Ben’s more of a shooter and a scorer.”

--Bill Self on Ben Mac

A couple games back I said Ben had Michael Jordan grade ability.

I did not mean Ben was going to win 6 NBA rings, or that he was going to be the greatest professional player of his time. Those levels of performance are driven not just by one's physical abilities, but by one's mind and the coaches and players in one's professional life--by force of will and the fates, if you will.

Still, I meant Ben could do the kinds of physical feats on a floor that Jordan could.

But the moment I made the comparison, I thought, yes, but there was someone else he reminded me of.

Ah, now I remember.

David Thompson.

Skywalker.

1974.

North Carolina State.

Two guard.

The greatest leaper never to be allowed to dunk (the Lew Alcindor rule that outlawed dunking during his time).

The guy who, along with his tiny point guard pal, 5-6 Monte Towe, co-invented the alley pop.

jaybate 2 years ago

Part 2

The guy who was so great that he stopped John Wooden's run and won the NCAA ring in 1974 with 7-4 Tom Burleson in the middle and head coach Norm Sloan on the bench.

Skywalker, who lit up the ABA and then the NBA for 5-6 years at 25mpg, while descending deeper and deeper into substance abuse before a knee injury finished him. Imagine scoring 25 ppg with a Jones. Imagine scoring 25 ppg with a nose packed with snow. Imagine what the guy could have done had he been able to breath and not been strung out!

Skywalker the man who nearly destroyed himself with drugs, then found god, rebuilt his life and became one of the earliest drug ravaged greats to become a spokesman to young players to watch out for razor bladed lines of Colombian powdered sugar on mirrors.

Skywalker, the man that "his airness," Michael Jordan, asked to introduce Mike into the Hall of Fame--the guy Mike thought could jump.

To be sure, there have been a ton of great 2 guards in the game. Consider this list: 6-6 Michael Jordan, 6-7 Kobe Bryant, 6-2 Jerry West, 6-7 George Gervin, 6-1 Allen Iverson, 6-5 John Havlicek, 6-6 Clyde Drexler, 6-5 Pete Maravich, 6-3 Earl Monroe, and 6-4 Ray Allen.

All of the above were magnificient basketball players that combined all manner of greatness into super two guardism.

But there is a sub category of two guards--some on this all time two guard player list, some not. These are the super leapers--the anti-gravity guys--the guys who could do all of the fundamentals and who had all of the skills and tools, but who also could separate from mother earth like bottle rockets with nitro glycerin boosters. Explosive leapers. Leapers that seemed to be able to achieve zero-g on this mortal coil. This is a short list. It is a biased list. It is a list that relies on my memory. It reflects what I can recall. No doubt I am leaving some guys off from the last decade or so that should be recalled and hopefully will be recalled by fellow board rats. But this is who stands out to me now before all the rats with younger, better memories than me kick in.

jaybate 2 years ago

First there was Junior Bridgeman at 6-5 and 210 in 1971.

Then there was Skywalker at 6-4 and 195 in 1974.

Then there was 6-4 and 190 Darrell Griffith aka Dr. Dunkenstein in 1976.

Then there was Jordan at 6-6 and 216 (probably only 195 in college) in 1981.

And then there was a long silence, or perhaps I should say a long intermission in the basketball film epic "Vertical."

Guys like Kobe and Clyde could be on the list, but there is something about the way they played the game that did not trigger the anti-gravity ballet sensation the way these other guys did, even though they may have had similar verticals.

A guy like Lebron could be on the list, too, because he practically plays ever position but 5, and can apparently jump into orbit, but Lebron at 6-8 and 250 does not belong on any list. Or rather he is a list of one. Bill Self called Lebron James the biggest athletic freak on the planet and that is the only list he belongs on right now. Lebron is to the 2 through 4 positions what Magic Johnson once was to the 1 through 4 positions--an impossibility that never the less exists.

So let's get back to the XTReme Aerialist group, the one that has evidenced double zeniths: David Thompson and Michael Jordan.

Now there is Ben Mac at 6-5 and 195 in 2012.

I have no idea if he can jump as high as Skywalker, or Saturn V Mike.

But he can do the things in the air they did...with the ease they did it...as often as they did it.

Remember that Ben is a redshirt freshman playing on a team full of seniors with a footer center and a coach that likes to spread the scoring around, who says that Ben still hasn't really figured how to involve himself in the offense.

At what can only be called his nascent stage, Ben is the team's go to guy and 20 points when ever asked man.

Ben is the guy you pitch the ball some where within six feet of the rim and it gets collected and deposited.

Ben is the guy out on the floor hopping over the guys with hops, riding invisible escalators above bouncy big men, taking the express elevator without stops to the top.

This is the guy that puts it on the deck, pulls up from three, and up...and up...and up...and hangs there at the top long enough for me to check my flipping Timex, and squeezes a trey that follows an absurd arc because of how high it starts, an drops, while his defender is still flossing with Ben's shoe laces.

Damned right, you haven't coached a guy like this before.

He is one of those once a decade guys, maybe once every two decade types.

The intermission in "Vertical" is over.

The house lights are dimming.

Get ready for Ben Mac.

Eliott Reeder 2 years ago

Dominique. D Wade. Vincent Carter. Pure leapers that deserve mention.

jaybate 2 years ago

Great assists. Thanks. Nique was one of the all time sky trains.

Carter took on air with the best.

Wade? He is a dead eye and creator for sure. But I didn't realize he was a great leaper, too. Thx.

Hank Cross 2 years ago

For some reason BMac reminds me of Jamaal Wilkes. Not in the funky shooting motion, but the feeling you get that every he takes an open jumper, you think its going in until proven wrong.

Al Martin 2 years ago

And yet... Travis overthrew him yesterday :-)

monkeehawkSL8 2 years ago

I understand the "what if"s. There has not been one player that left the nest early that I haven't spent time wondering what if they had stayed. Posting is a challenge for me. Daily I think" if I could navigate the key board as quickly as" ....... the world would be a better place. Ah, self delusion.

However the most important area of Ben's current ability in my opinion is that he played through many frosh mistakes in practicing with the team last year.

If more attention was paid to the positive effect this may have had on Ben's game, perhaps other struggling freshman would benefit from it.

This years team, for short periods of time looked like one of the best college basketball teams I have ever seen. Normally I have to record the game, find out the result. Then watch it after I know they have won. This is different. This team is so much fun to watch.

To all the sooth sayers who accurately predicted the out come of the game, wow, very impressive. Thanks, monk.

Mike Barnhart 2 years ago

You have to know the score BEFORE you watch the game? Oh my, that's sick! You know that, right? ... I know because I suffer as well. We need a support group!

2008, Kansas vs Carolina, second half - I excuse myself from the group watching the game, go outside, in the dark and do a bit of yard work! Time was moving too slow, it was driving me nuts!

monkeehawkSL8 2 years ago

jjjjjhok, would you consider being my sponsor? Alahawk, a 2step program. More than 2 steps would be traveling.

1) Admit that outside of barfing up a lung cheering, I am powerless over the out come of a game.

2) Came to believe that a power forward greater than ourselves could help restore us to a national championship.

I've gotta go do some service work. Remember don't think & go to games. Thanks,monk.

gdkadjayhawk 2 years ago

Did the same thing during the Davidson game...twice! Game was too ugly and scary. Was there for the finish, though.

WichitaRaider 2 years ago

God I love to be a Jayhawk!! What a classy program, with such an educated fan base. The sky is the limit for these high flying artists of the hardwood. So refreshing to see a coach who can make the old fashioned ethos of hard work and selfless team play propel these kids to greater levels than any individual talent. I love how that it doesn't matter to Ben how much praise gets heaped at his feet, he still keeps his feet in firm contact with the ground he's standing on.....unless they are five feet off the floor en route to the steel!

Beate Williams 2 years ago

Jaybate, that was a great post; one mistake, Magic was 1-5, remember when Jabbar went down and he had to play post in the, I believe the 6th game of the playoffs against, again not sure but I think it was Philly.

jaybate 2 years ago

OMG! You're right. Great assist. I owe you three for one on that assist. Thanks.

CardHawkFan 2 years ago

The only comment I have pertains to the box score...the way the numbers are spread out. You can tell a lot about a "team" effort by looking there. Starting to look eerily familiar circa 2007-08 where multiple guys are just stepping up. Just a thought

archercc 1 year, 12 months ago

No doubt, its a considerably more balanced team than the last couple of years. That should make it harder for other teams to scout and isolate. There is a reason it was "Danny and the Miracles." Nobody makes it that far with just a rock star, you can double a rock star.

BigXIIForever 2 years ago

I think it should be common practice to redshirt recruits for a year like they do in football. Trob was pretty much redshirted for two years. Not that McLemore would not have helped us last year, but I think he benefitted from learning and not playing for a year.

HawkKlaw 2 years ago

Of course he did. That's why he's the best one-and-done prospect so far in the Bill Self era. If he would have played last season, he would have probably been similar (maybe a little better) to Xavier his freshman year at KU.

ku1otaku 2 years ago

If McLemore would've put up Xavier Henry numbers last year then we would've really given Kentucky a run for the money.

Jack Jones 2 years ago

Good news - bad news. Good news - BMac is a really, really good basketball player ---> Bad news - BMac is a really, really, really, really GOOD basketball player. Wonderful conundrum to have to face.

Steve Gantz 2 years ago

I don't join the usual chorus of Keegan bashing, but this line did bother me for a professional writer: "On an out-of-bounds lob play, McLemore was looking way down at the rim when he caught the ball before flushing it."

Sounds like the exaggerations of a 6th grader. I went back and watched, just to make sure, and yes, the top of his head doesn't even clear the rim. I'm not sure if anyone in the history of the game can elevate to be looking way down at the rim. Now I'm not saying the man can't soar with the best of them, he certainly can, I just expect more apt descriptions from LJW writers.

Joseph Kuebel 1 year, 12 months ago

Shawn Kemp had an advertisement where he was actually looking down into the rim... Not sure if it was just an ad or if it was real, though.

archercc 1 year, 12 months ago

Im really not here to criticize his writing but I recall that play and commented that if he had jumped closer he would have been in danger of breaking his nose on the rim, he got up there.

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