Ben McLemore is KU’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game, the
highest scoring average by any Kansas freshman in school history.
McLemore’s name is also all over the KU freshmen record books in
multiple other categories.
Accolades have already come his way for this rising phenom. The 6-5
guard is an All-Big 12 First-Team selection, a USBWA All-America
Second-Team honoree, and a Third-Team All-American by the Sporting News.
Heck, McLemore even recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.
But as good as McLemore is, he’s struggled during the NCAA Tournament
thus far. In KU’s two wins over Western Kentucky and North Carolina at
Sprint Center in Kansas City, McLemore shot just 2-of-14 from the
field, including 0-of-8 from beyond the arc. He also committed six
turnovers in those two games and played just six minutes the second
half in KU’s 70-58 victory over North Carolina on Sunday.
Ask him about sitting on the pine, and the selfless McLemore just
smiles and praises the efforts of players like Naadir Tharpe, Jeff Withey and Kevin Young.
“It was great,” he said. “I felt like a fan. I was still supporting my
teammates even though I wasn’t out there. I still have a great
attitude. They fought the second half and pulled through and we came
out with a win, which was great.”
And now McLemore and the No. 1 seeded Jayhawks are headed to the Sweet
16 with a matchup against No. 4 seeded Michigan at 6:37 p.m. (CT) on
Friday in Arlington, Texas, at Cowboys Stadium in front of 42,000 fans.
“It’s a great feeling,” McLemore said. “I don’t know how to express it.”
While McLemore labored during the opening two games of the tournament,
he said he didn’t feel much nerves with his first time in the Big
Dance. Still, he couldn’t find the basket, especially against UNC, when
he shot 0-9 from the field, including 0-of-6 from three-point range.
“The last couple of games, I’ve been loose and I got the feel for it
(NCAA Tournament),” McLemore said. “They really haven’t been my game.
I’m still trying to play my game, I’m still trying to help my teammates
out and still bring a lot of energy to the team.
“... It’s just a bigger stage for the first time, being a freshman and
sitting out last year and just watching, and now to be on the stage,
it’s just a different feeling. I really haven’t changed. I still play
my game. I try to stay focused and calm.”
McLemore, whose shot has been compared by some experts to one of the
best shooters in NBA history in Miami Heat’s Ray Allen, isn’t too
worried that this jumper hasn’t found the net quite yet.
He’s still going to keep shooting.
“(Just) don’t rush things, go out there and give my all like I’ve
always been doing,” he said. “I just got to be ready, be back in the
gym and shoot and stuff like that.”
While KU advanced to the Sweet 16 without much production from
McLemore, as the stakes and competition now get bigger on Friday,
Kansas dearly needs this super frosh to find his groove.
KU coach Bill Self, for one, believes McLemore will rise to the
occasion after seeing limited second-half minutes against the Tar Heels.
“Ben labored this weekend. He’s still our leading scorer. We’re going
to go right back to him,” Self said after the North Carolina game.
“There’s not going to be a situation with that. ... It wasn’t hard not
to play him because he’s the best teammate on the team. These guys will
tell you he’s just happy to win. We’ll get him right heading into
Arlington. I’m talking about getting his confidence back. He had some
pretty good looks today, but it wasn’t his day.
“... The great thing about Ben, he cares about winning,” Self
continued. “He put that ahead of everything else. He’s happy for these
guys. For us to be good, to have a chance to advance, we need all our
players playing much closer to their ceiling. I think with Ben, it’s
just through repetition. He just needs to see the ball go through the
hole this week in practice.”
If that indeed happens, he could shoot lights out against Michigan.
And McLemore will again be the talk of KU hoops and college basketball