Originally published June 27, 2013 at 09:33p.m., updated June 28, 2013 at 12:32a.m.
New York — Those at Ben McLemore’s NBA Draft table at the Barclays Center on Thursday night might have been a little surprised that the former Kansas University standout was still sitting next to them when the seventh pick in this year’s draft rolled around.
But when the Sacramento Kings snagged McLemore at No. 7, each one of them turned his thoughts to another former Jayhawk who unexpectedly slipped down the board on draft night 15 years ago.
His name was Paul Pierce, and all he has done since leaving KU after his junior season in 1998 is go on to win an NBA title with the Boston Celtics, earn Finals MVP and play in 10 All-Star games.
It may be a little too early to predict that kind of path for McLemore, but there are plenty of people who think that’s within the realm of possibilities.
“Paul went into the draft with the chance to go 1 and he went 10,” KU coach Bill Self told the Journal-World at the draft. “And I think he used that to his advantage. I think Ben should do the same thing. But the best part about Ben is he’s not one bit upset about going seventh or anything like that. He just wants to go play ball.”
Although many, including McLemore, expected the 6-foot-5, smooth-shooting forward to be long gone by the time NBA Commissioner David Stern announced Sacramento’s selection Thursday, one McLemore supporter drew serious attention for voicing that opinion.
With McLemore slowly slipping down the board, his spirits were lifted by a quick message from his brother, Kevin, who told him about a tweet from reigning NBA MVP LeBron James.
At 7:04 p.m., the man many call the best player in the world, tweeted a hefty endorsement McLemore’s way.
“They sleeping on Ben McLemore,” @KingJames wrote to his nearly 9 million followers. “Just watch.”
Less than 15 minutes later, McLemore, who sported a replica of his No. 23 KU jersey sewn into the inside of his suit jacket, was wearing his new Kings hat and blissfully answering questions from the media about his new home.
Asked about the tweet from James and how well he knew him, McLemore tried to play it cool.
“I know him pretty well,” McLemore said. “(From) going to his camps my junior year and then just getting to meet him and stuff like that. He’s a great guy. I looked up to him a lot.”
The look on McLemore’s face while answering the question revealed that the unexpected tweet was a definite highlight.
Before making the walk across the stage, McLemore handed out hugs and soaked up some words of encouragement from those in his corner who aren’t the best players on the planet. McLemore said Self’s message summed it all up perfectly.
“He told me he wasn’t expecting to be here, but, you know, that’s family,” McLemore said. “He’s a part of my family. And he was just telling me, keep a smile on your face and go do what you know you can do and that’s to play ball.”
In Sacramento, McLemore joins a young team in a city whose fan base recently overturned a near move to Seattle.
“I don’t know everything that’s going on with that,” Self said. “But obviously the Kings mean something to that community because they fought so hard to keep ’em.”
Added McLemore agent Rodney Blackstock, who said he loved the situation McLemore was drafted into: “Coming from KU to Sacramento is like coming home. He’s going from one passionate fan base to another, and it’s exciting to know he’s heading into such a great situation. Sacramento’s a great city. He’s gonna love it, and they’re gonna love him.”
Self said the small-market nature of the Kings was something that would benefit McLemore because instead of worrying about outside distractions and pressures, he can focus his time and energy on playing ball, maturing and getting better. The latter is something Self believes will happen quickly.
“In this draft, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder,” Self said. “But from an upside standpoint, this kid’s just started to scratch it.”
ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who has called a lot of KU games during the past few years, said he saw McLemore to Sacramento as a decent fit, provided the Kings can figure out one thing.
“I like it,” Fraschilla told the Journal-World. “They’ve gotta get him the ball, though. I love Ben. He’s a great player, and he’s a great kid.”
According to the rookie pay scale posted at
HoopsWorld.com, McLemore will make more than $7.5 million during his initial three-year contract: $2.4 million in Year 1, $2.5 million in Year 2 and $2.6 million in Year 3.
He became the second Jayhawk in a row to be drafted by the Kings in the first round of the NBA draft. In 2012, Sacramento selected Thomas Robinson with the No. 5 overall pick. Although Robinson has since been traded away, McLemore said he loved knowing that the Kings like Jayhawks.
“FOE,” he said, referencing KU’s long-standing team mantra of “Family Over Everything.” “I’m ready. And I’m happy to be part of the Sacramento family.”