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The biggest difference between Ben McLemore and Xavier Henry? Perception

The general consensus I get from Kansas basketball fans is that Xavier Henry was a bust in his one-and-done year, while Ben McLemore was a success.

It's simply not true if you look only at the numbers.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore pulls up for a three over Temple guard Scootie Randall during the first half on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore pulls up for a three over Temple guard Scootie Randall during the first half on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

For the last few years, Ken Pomeroy has listed "player comparables" in his advanced stats on KenPom.com.

The full explanation for the measure is on his site, but basically, a score of 900 or more means two players are "a great match."

McLemore and Henry's player comparable score is 917 — the highest mark for each player. Keep in mind that's comparing their statistics to every other Div. I freshman over the past eight years.

The similarity between the two is even more striking when looking at the advanced statistics. I've highlighted in red the categories where the two put up nearly the same stat line.

Photo illustration by Janella Williams/Journal-World.

Photo illustration by Janella Williams/Journal-World. by Jesse Newell

The two players took on the same offensive load (usage percentage) and hitched up the same amount of shots. Their rebounding numbers are nearly identical, as are their turnover percentages and three-point shooting percentages.

Basically, here are the four things that separate McLemore and Henry:

• Playing time: McLemore's per-game numbers look better because he was in a greater percentage of KU's minutes. One could easily argue that if McLemore was on the deeper 2009-10 team in Henry's place, his playing time might have been reduced as well.

• Free throws: Henry was a good free-throw shooter, but McLemore was an excellent one, which helped boost his offensive rating by a few points.

Two-point shooting: McLemore shot six percentage points better inside the arc, which again was enough to boost his offensive production up just a bit above Henry's.

Defense: Henry was the more disruptive defender, as his steal percentage was nearly double that of McLemore in his one season.

All things considered, McLemore is the better player. His enhanced offensive value over Henry makes up for his weaker steal numbers.

Still, it's close — and much closer than you'd expect based on the players' reputations.

So why is it that McLemore is widely considered a success while Henry isn't?

A few theories:

Expectations: McLemore committed to KU at an anonymous high-school all-star game near Chicago. Henry's original announcement that he was attending Memphis (before he reopened his recruitment) was live on ESPN.

Fair or not, the added media exposure of recruits usually boosts their expectations. Interestingly, Henry was ranked eighth in his class by Rivals.com, while McLemore was 17th, so the two actually were closer in that respect than KU fans might remember.

Henry's stock also was elevated a bit early in his senior year when, for a short time, he was the ranked the No. 1 player in his class by ESPNU.

• Likability: McLemore's backstory of succeeding over adversity and poverty has been documented in a few places, and it added to him being an easy player to cheer for. Henry, meanwhile, didn't initially report to KU in the summer before his freshman year, which didn't get him off to a good start with KU's fanbase. Xavier — a polite kid in interviews — also probably had his reputation hurt by association, as his father Carl many times came across as overbearing while his brother C.J. often looked disinterested and self-focused while putting up a high percentage of shots during his one season at KU.

Dunks: This is a big one. Though the two players' numbers were similar, they looked much different based on the eye test.

According to the KU media relations department's unofficial count, McLemore had 43 dunks in his one season.

Henry had only 17. And his weren't nearly as impressive.

McLemore was a more fun athlete to watch because of his leaping ability and creative slams. Even with those gifts, McLemore's offensive production was just barely above Henry's.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore finishes the game with a windmill dunk against San Jose State during the second half on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore finishes the game with a windmill dunk against San Jose State during the second half on Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The bottom line? McLemore and Henry both had productive seasons during their one-year playing careers in Lawrence.

Take out the emotions and perception, and the two were nearly identical college players ... even if there's little hope that they'll be remembered that way.


More from Jesse Newell

  • Did Perry Ellis exceed expectations in 2012-13?
  • Here's what KU's 2013 recruiting class would have looked like in previous years
  • Seen it? The nation's reaction to top recruit Andrew Wiggins choosing Kansas
  • Here's what type of player KU is getting in Hunter Mickelson
  • Ranking the top 10 dunks of 2012-13
  • ;

    Comments

    REHawk 10 months, 1 week ago

    Perception, statistics, reality, whatever...; I am pleased that each of these fine players and good kids ended up on Jayhawk rosters. Wish the NBA rules were different, so that we might have seen each of them play at least two seasons of Div. 1 ball. I think it would have benefitted them greatly in personal development. The lure of guaranteed millions is, understandably, a deciding factor in the OAD decisions. Quick premature departure exceedingly poignant and a downer for players, coaches, fans. I remember X's tears at time of departure, and appreciate his lingering attachment and occasional returns to KU. In assuming mentorship of these super talented highly sought after recruits, Bill Self takes on a major responsibility, the complexities of which tend to justify his uber-ridiculous salary. If or when any of them falls short of meeting expectations, the feeling is broadcast far and wide that Jayhawk Basketball might not be the best site for OAD play. The fact that Andrew Wiggins has chosen to wear a Jayhawk uniform will make for popular draw in top recruits showing up at Late Night.

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    burquehawk 10 months, 1 week ago

    While the stats are pretty similar, they're a bit unfair. Xavier's team was much better offensively than last years squad. X had sherron who could (and did) drive to the basket at will. It had tyshawn, who could get to the basket as well. It had cole, who while not dominant offensively, had to be respected down low and at times was double teamed. It had the morrii, who at that point were solid offensively and could score down low or facing up. It had complementary shooters in morningstar and reed. Long story short, you had to account for all of those guys offensively. That often left Xavier in advantageous positions to score. That team scored 81.6 ppg. Now look at last years team. You had a bunch of guys who quite frankly were offensively challenged. Travis was an excellent outside shooter and transition finisher, but couldn't create his own shot. Withey scored on putbacks and was a good foul shooter for a big, but had no post moves and never commanded double teams. KY had no offensive game other than putbacks and hustle plays. Elijah was a mediocre point guard at best, playing out of position. Perry didn't really hit his offensive stride til the last few games. As much as i loved last years team, they were tough to watch offensively at times. The TCU game? For Ben to score as much and as efficiently as he did on that team when he was the primary focus of the opposition's defensive game plan was pretty incredible. I really doubt that Xavier was ever the one player that other team's coaches gameplanned against. None of this is evident though if you just look at stats alone.

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    Tony Bandle 10 months, 1 week ago

    KU's OAD Grades:

    1] Selby - Mediocre [C-].

    2] Henry - Decent [B-].

    3] McLemore - Very Good [A-].

    4] Wiggins - [Projected] Spectacular [A++]

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    kugrad93 10 months, 1 week ago

    Keep in mind that the recruiting of the Henry brothers dates back at least 10 years to when Roy Williams was recruiting CJ while he was in high school. CJ opted to try pro baseball instead. The drama that was involved in CJ's transfer and Xavier's decicion seemed over the top considering the kids' parents were both KU alums. In the end, was all the time Williams and Self and their assistants put in to recruiting these two worth a second-round loss to UNI? Xavier scored eight points in 32 minutes in that game, and CJ did not play.

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    JayHawkFanToo 10 months, 1 week ago

    Nice article Jesse. I believe once and for all lays to rest the notion that Henry's season was a bust; it was indeed a pretty decent season by any objective measurement.
    Also, McLemore has an edge in the comparison insofar as he had one full year of practice (and Hudy) with the team before his only season at KU, where Henry was a true freshman. This is actually a huge edge to McLemore which makes Henry's season as a true freshman look that much better. Would McLemore have had the same season he had (in his second year) if he had played in his first year at KU? The most likely answer is probably not.

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    Joe Ross 10 months, 1 week ago

    I think we're missing something here. Not only were McLemore's numbers marginally better, but consensus seems to be that McLemore was no where near his full potential. Ben's room to grow appeared to have been much larger than Xavier's (my perspective only). If you want to circumscribe this discussion to what they did on the court, fine. I have no problem with Newell's analysis. But if both of their potential impacts at the next level, or even what each of them could have done had they stayed extra years at Kansas, I'd take Ben every day of the week and twice on Sunday, and I'd wager that the rate of rise of McLemore's numbers would have outpaced those of Henry's. Why is this the case? It's simple, really. Xavier had pro-type training before he even got to Kansas, which made him more ready, I believe, to play the college game. But even with this advantage, the untrained McLemore (comparatively speaking) posted better stats. In addition, there is the of mindset and athletic I.Q. Xavier received much of this from his father. McLemore's lacked that caliber of mentor, and his game was based on an impressive amount of talent. If you could project out what McLemore would have been had he had the same advantages, this wouldn't even be a discussion. To my mind, there is no comparison. Trust me, fellas. You're gonna WANT that COWBELL.

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    Robert Rauktis 10 months, 1 week ago

    Isn't college ball, in the end a team game? And the expectations of that 2010 team were thrashed abruptly in the tournament. Xavier led nobody to the promised land and that's what the fans remember, not the spectacular dunks or digits on some stat sheet.

    And that's why the basketball season ends in March and not June. The rest is baseball cards of fantasy football.

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    MarineHawk 10 months, 1 week ago

    Okay, the basic point of the article is good, but I think it is exaggerated a bit, in that BMac beats XHen in almost all categories, even if they are fairly close, and a 6%-pt difference in 2-pt. shooting is a pretty big deal.

    Also, and I can't believe nobody noticed this, but this is false: "Interestingly, Henry was ranked eighth in his class by Rivals.com, while McLemore was 17th, so the two actually were closer in that respect than KU fans might remember."

    BMac was ranked 34th by Rivals before coming to KU, not 17th!!!: http://rivals.yahoo.com/basketballrecruiting/basketball/recruiting/rankings/rank-rivals150/2011

    How could anyone who really follows KU basketball for a living (I don't) not know that? It is significant that, despite BMac's RS season, Self is going to put a #34 recruit into the NBA high lottery after one year of college basketball. Who thinks he was ranked 17th? Was he ranked 17th at some point previously? I don't remember that, but that seems irrelevant even if it is true (and that is not what the article implied). When has an article talked about non-final recruit rankings unless it said it was a non-final ranking. BMac was rakned 34th, not 17th, by Rivals. .

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    William Blake 10 months, 1 week ago

    First... the "X was a bust" concept relates to his impact in the NBA.

    It is too early to write this article. Let's see where BMac goes in the draft and what impact he makes in his first year or two before making comparisons.

    I never thought X was a bust at KU. I just thought he should have stuck out another year... same as I thought for BMac.

    My perception of these guys holds out when comparing the stat line; X was a better defender, and BMac was better on the offensive end. I feel that in comparing, and the stats support that, too.

    To be honest, BMac's defense never really showed itself, outside of a few sensational blocks. He was constantly faked out of his shorts and couldn't stop penetration, and he constantly lost his man or didn't make switches.

    By the end of X's year, he had become a stable defender.

    BMac's outside jumper seems to shine over everything. And he showed athleticism to the hole on occasion... enough to get people excited.

    I can see why NBA scouts seem more excited about BMac... he is a more-exciting package. Visuals go a long way in the NBA, and BMac looks great on film and in stills. More so than X.

    I'd like to see these guys go toe-to-toe... 1-on-1... I'd put my money on X, because he is by far the better defender.

    My bet is within a couple years I'll flip my pick to BMac.

    But who knows what the future brings.

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    Hawk8086 10 months, 1 week ago

    I always felt like quite a few fans thought that X was a disappointment. I never felt that way. I think as the article, and others, point out, it was the drama, etc. that lowered some fans' perception of how effective X was. The only thing that I was disappointed in was that I always felt he could have taken it to the basket more, but I still thought he was a very productive and successful freshman.

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    Ralster Jayhawk 10 months, 1 week ago

    Good luck to Xavier Henry. Nice to see him come back to AFH to watch KU games also.

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    Robbk1066 10 months, 1 week ago

    NBA scouts who rate on potential have BMac going higher too. Enlightening to see the comparison, did not know it was that close. Perception is reality in this world though, if I was a GM I would take BMac over Henry every time. Not even close to me. When I was watching both of their one and done seasons I always wanted BMac in there, with Henry I did not care...

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    DCLawHawk 10 months, 1 week ago

    Fascinating that two guys from the same team a couple years apart would each be the most comparable to each other stats wise given all the possible combinations in Div I over the past 8 years. Nice find Jesse! Since Ben unquestionably played the 2 and Xavier the 3, this also adds more proof to the points being made on other threads that the guard roles (and even the SG/SF roles) tend to be interchangeable on HCBS's squads. All the more reason not to judge their contributions in isolation I suppose, though I would love to have seen how Ben and Xavier would have ranked in a "best 2/3 guys during Self's tenure" article before this article came out. Methinks Ben would have been 1 on many lists and Xavier would not have been 2 on any and perhaps not even 3 on any of them. Statistically speaking though, you have to say they were 1, 2 (or 2,3 or 3,4).

    I think this article proves decisively that Xavier Henry's freshman season has been undervalued by fans. That said, I believe there is another factor that contributes to the explanation for why this has happened: Josh Selby. I think because Xavier and Selby were both OAD's, it is hard for fans to separate the two seasons in their minds. To me, Xavier was not at all disappointing and Selby was (though he admittedly was dealt a tougher hand with suspension and injury). However, when I think about whether the OAD's under Self have been disappointing, I tend to think the answer is 'yes.' So I tend to think that Xavier wasn't as good as he was out of a kind of 'guilt by association' with other OAD's. Does that make sense to anyone else as a partial explanation?

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    shufly 10 months, 1 week ago

    Don't agree with the conclusion. While both played at a high level, the difference isn't "bout the same". At that level reality is how each effected the over all results. Self claims Ben is the best he's coached, predraft judgement is that Ben is a lock for the NBA and potentially a future all pro. Fair judgement requires more depth than individual stats, it is a team sport.

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    Michael Luby 10 months, 1 week ago

    Good post Jesse. Ive always thought perception is often blinded by the eyes. It is clear that Henry and Ben Mac were very similar, even if Ben was more athletic and a super stud! He will be one of my favorites for a long time.

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    Geezer 10 months, 1 week ago

    The J. Brady hachet jod on Carl Henry really did some damage to everyone's impression of X. He always seemed like a great kid and has been back in Lawrence quite a few times. The UNI game left a bad taste in a lot of mouths for not only X. but Cole and Sherron as well. Good stuff Jesse.

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    Phoggie_Thinking 10 months, 1 week ago

    Ben's mom in the beginning didn't want him to come to KU and nobody cared because we didn't know her. X's dad talked a lot and everybody cared because he was supposed to be "family." Still think X's dad made it a lot harder for his son than he needed to because of his actions.

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    Brett McCabe 10 months, 1 week ago

    Absolutely don't understand why Jesse publishes this type of article at this time of year - just prior t the draft.

    Since it's done, let's make it simple: Ben is considered a great Jayhawk because he overcame a lot to get to KU, overcame a lot when he got to KU and played brilliantly at times during the year - plus he had the spectacular dunks.

    Xavier Henry came in on easy street, with a OAD attitude, a cling-on brother and ridiculous parents. To be considered a great Jayhawk, you either have to have the numbers, the championships or the hearts of the Jayhawk faithful. X has none of the above.

    1

    patkindle 10 months, 1 week ago

    I always thought the henry family had enough drama for their on tv reality series they wore me out with their issues

    1

    Manny Danning 10 months, 1 week ago

    What a great comparison!

    Let's not forget that we are comparing Freshman Xavier and essentially a Sophomore (by age and practice time, anyway) Ben. If Ben had been allowed to play his Freshman year his minutes would have been a lot lower on that team (splitting minutes with Releford at 3-guard and EJ at 2-guard) and his stats would have been much lower. Thus, the statistical comparison between X and BMac as True Freshman would have almost certainly had Xavier edging out Ben instead of the other way around.

    Ultimately I think Ben is the better NBA prospect, but I think Xavier's True Freshman stats on his particular team would have been better than Ben's True Freshman stats on his particular team.

    I would have never argued for this thesis before reading this article and the stats....thanks, Jesse for this thought-provoking piece!

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    jhox 10 months, 1 week ago

    Fair comparison. I do believe McLemore has a bigger high side though. He's smoother and more athletic, and more of a natural player (that eye test thing you point out). If he ever gets more comfortable driving with his weak hand, he can be an NBA All Star. Henry also never looked completely comfortable with his weak side handle, though I'm guessing he probably put more time into trying to develop it (he worked with trainers and coaches while in high school to improve his game). Ben is definitely more of a natural, and has a greater chance of getting significantly better than X. But I do agree their freshman seasons compare favorably.

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    Virgil_Caine 10 months, 1 week ago

    Just to have some fun on a hot and slow afternoon at work, let's assume players were never allowed to leave early (I suppose we'd have to assume there are no limits on scholarships). Which KU team is the most stacked?

    I would have to say it's between the 2009 team and the 2012 team, and you could probably make a pretty good argument for the 2013 team since we would have had T-Rob and Xavier as seniors and Selby as a junior (I'm assuming he would have developed into a good collegiate player under Self and Hudy).

    The 2012 team was already good enough to win the league and get to the 'ship, but think about adding Xavier as a junior, Selby as a sophomore, and the Morris twins as seniors. I don't think Kentucky would have stood a chance, even though they still would have had John Wall and Boogie Cousins.

    '09 would have been absolutely ridiculous. You bring back the core of the championship team, minus RussRob, Sasha and Darnell, but you've got still got Sherron, and Cole made a huge leap before his sophomore year. You've also got Tyshawn, who was a solid freshman, and the Morris twins, who at that point would have only been good for some hard fouls. Brady's redshirt is off, and Tyrel is ready to play too. Whoa, that's a deeeep team!

    This is kind of a silly post, but it's sure fun to daydream about what those teams would have looked like!

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    Andrew Horigan 10 months, 1 week ago

    Had McLemore played right away he would have only been at KU for one year instead of two and we might have appreciated him a bit less since he would have played in the shadow of Thomas Robinson. Although, with him playing we might have won the championship so who knows. Xavier, unfortunately, was on the one seed that lost to UNI, so his memory was spoiled a bit, along with his brother's attitude and father's arrogant statements. But I remember Xavier always playing with a big grin and having fun. A 3point contest between the two would be fun to watch.

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    dobberhawk 10 months, 1 week ago

    I agree with VA that Xavier's NBA career has (so far) impacted the perception of his time at KU. I would also add one more aspect to the "Expectations" section of the article that impacts Xavier's perception - the performance of the team in the NCAA tournament. The drama of his coming to KU probably would have been more easily forgotten if the team didn't fall to Northern Iowa.

    The 2009-2010 team was the overall #1 seed for the NCAA tournament, and falling far short of expectations to another small school in the second round gave everyone on this team a grade of incomplete/mission unfulfilled - in particular the team's leaders. Cole and Sherron each played small, but key roles in 2008 and probably get a bit of a pass for 2010 as a result, so perhaps any feelings of failure for the team land disproportionately on Xavier. Just an idea, but I think the farther this team would have gone, the greater Jayhawk Nation's perception of Xavier's time here would have been.

    What a novel thought, eh? - winning cures everything. :-)

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    Joe Joseph 10 months, 1 week ago

    That's interesting and surprising. I'd say definitely an issue of hype and expectations. McLemore's expectations were definitely tempered by him having to sit out a year and due to his prep ranking. If I'm not mistaken, McLemore's ranking fluctuated a bit and took a bit of a hit when he had to transfer high schools. While Xavier's ranking went down (slightly) in Rivals, I believe he stayed around #3 according to ESPN. His family members definitely didn't help either.

    There's also the fact that McLemore had several memorable performances that resulted in KU wins. How many 30-point games did McLemore have? Four? Five? What'd Henry have? One? In the preseason against an MIAA opponent? McLemore single handedly won KU four or five games this past season. I'm not sure Henry had even one such performance.

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    canuckhawk 10 months, 1 week ago

    Thank you Jesse. It is so interesting that the stats are so similar and following McLemore's decision to go pro most of the fans on this site are cheering him on and following Henry's announcement a significant portion were positive that he needed more time in college. Of course, we always love when guys return and none of us really know when someone is ready for the NBA, but the difference in fan attitude toward relatively similar fr-year output is interesting.

    I think their team results may also play a factor.

    With Henry's team (err...Sheron & Cole's team), we had national championship expectations from the start. Look at that roster again and it will surprise you again that we didn't win it all. But Cinderella crashed the ball and we ended up on the wrong side of the one shining moment video. I still remember that day. That plays a part in Henry's legacy and that isn't fair.

    This year's team was all gravy. Still a tough loss in the end, but these guys were the unheralded overachievers. McLemore benefited from our relatively low (for KU) expectations of his team and by how much they exceeded them.

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    Justin Steele 10 months, 1 week ago

    This was a good argument, Ive noticed Xavier has been getting trashed on the boards lately with the success of BMAC and the signing of Andrew Wiggins. But Xavier was what people thought he would be a really good shooter and decent defender with decent athleticism he got drafted in the first round and plays sparingley in the NBA because he's not really got the athleticism needed to guard nba 2's and 3's thats why I think he's considered a bust I think he had a good run at KU and he couldnt control his father and brother without those two he wouldn't have such a negative stigma

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    woodscolt 10 months, 1 week ago

    I think you can slice and dice the numbers any way you want but Ben Mclemore was a far superior player and that will most certainly be proven out in the NBA. I think the stats comparison is probably more of a boost to Henry's case than a reflection on how good McLemore was. Mclemores attitude and devotion to being a team player had more to do with his stats being modest than how good he could have been. I like both of them and appreciate that Henry has returned to Lawrence on numerous occasions which helps solidify him as a member of Jayhawk nation given he was one and done. I think fans should be proud of both and pitting them against each other shouldn't happen very often.

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    ParisHawk 10 months, 1 week ago

    This article serves justice.

    I'm glad it underlines Xavier's steal percentage, since I have often pointed out that he led the team in steals his season.

    Coach Self's problem is he wants players to buy into his system but he also wants the most talented players to go beyond the system to greatness: go do what it takes to win it all. His "greatest" players were not the OADs, but the Chalmers and Collins. His most talented players were Rushes, Xaviers and McLemores who mostly stayed within the system even when it wasn't quite enough.

    Could Wiggins finally be the uber-talented alpha dog who can play great both within and outside the system? That would be something...

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    sports4life 10 months, 1 week ago

    I would have prefered a home vs home comparison as well. We all know he was almost non-existant in away games.

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    Virgil_Caine 10 months, 1 week ago

    Who says Xavier was a bust? Most freshmen aren't ready to make an impact right away. Xavier didn't play like a phenom necessarily, but he made very positive contributions to a really good team. I'm not certain he was ready to head to the NBA, but he went in the lottery, so what do I know? The problem is that when NBA scouts are interested in a kid, his college fanbase tends to place absurdly unrealistic expectations on him. I certainly don't regret our year with him, and I'll bet if Coach Self had the choice, he'd take him again.

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    Ferd Magellan 10 months, 1 week ago

    It all boils down to expectations. Henry was simply more highly-touted and physically imposing coming out of high school. McLemore hadn't even played out on the perimeter until his junior year in St Louis. He could dunk, but only a few scouts knew of his absurd potential.

    I don't hear much negativity surrounding Henry though, at least not from the alumni I'm around. Most would acknowledge that Ben was needed to carry our offense this past season, while Xavier was just a piece of a loaded KU team back in '10. I think more are disappointed with his poor NBA production than anything he did (or didn't do) in Lawrence. Also Carl didn't do his son any favors by running his mouth all the time.

    I'm a huge Xavier fan and will always appreciate him being a big part of a great season of KU basketball.

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    ArgyleJayhawks 10 months, 1 week ago

    I began reading this ready to poke holes all over your argument but it was too sound to do that. In my opinion, the key point is the public perception angle. The drama Henry brought turned people against him while McLemore really seemed to love being a Jayhawk.

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    always_correct 10 months, 1 week ago

    This was an interesting article. Thanks for publishing it. I'm curious to see what the reception from this and other message boards will be once it makes its rounds.

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