NCAA: Ben McLemore Rising Fast
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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The Kansas Jayhawks surprised everyone last season by advancing to the championship game. The catalysts behind that run were point guard Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson. Robinson dominated inside to the tune of 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, while Taylor manned the point and scored 16.6 points and dished out 4.8 assists a night. They moved on to the NBA afterwards, with Robinson going fifth overall to the Sacramento Kings and Taylor being selected 41st overall, eventually ending up with the Brooklyn Nets.
It’s no shocker that the Jayhawks are once again one of the best teams in the country, despite losing Robinson and Taylor, because Self already had his next stud waiting in the wings. Ben McLemore was originally a member of the 2011 recruiting class, where he was ranked 17th overall and fourth for shooting guards by the recruiting experts at Rivals.com. However, he was ruled ineligible for last season due to being a partial qualifier. That was a result of playing at three different high schools his senior year.
Senior center Jeff Withey and the rest of the Jayhawks’ veteran players are extremely vital to the team’s success, but the redshirt freshman has quickly become the go-to player. In a lot of people’s eyes, McLemore is the best shooting guard prospect in the nation, above the likes of UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum.
McLemore is scoring 16 points a night while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also good for at least one highlight-reel worthy dunk a game. He’s a standout athlete even by NBA standards.
Known mostly for his offense at this point, with his foot speed and length McLemore has all the tools to be just as good on the defensive end as well.
Referring to him as a freshman is a little bit deceiving because he is going to be 21 years old by the time of the 2013 NBA Draft. Oklahoma State freshman guard Marcus Smart, who is also a top-ranked guard from an NBA Draft perspective, will only be 19 by comparison.
That’s about the only negative you’ll hear about McLemore, though. The fact that he is as old as most juniors isn’t going to hold him back much. He’s improved since the beginning of the year and there are areas where he can definitely get better at, like with his ball handling and defense.
In fact, it’s not too early to rule McLemore out of the discussion for the top overall pick. With three months left before the tournament, there’s no reason why his ascent up the mock draft boards can’t continue.
This year’s draft class is quickly getting labeled as one that lacks star power. Nobody has clearly established themselves as a lock for the top overall selection. Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel was thought to be that for a long time, but he’s greener than most realized. His teammates Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress look to be more NBA ready, although Noel may have the better upside.
Indiana’s Cody Zeller is a solid candidate to go first overall and has the production to back it up, but there are serious questions over his pro potential. While he is dominant at the collegiate level and clearly the best big man in the country, he may not be more than a role player or third option in the NBA, which is not what teams are looking for when they win the lottery or have a top three pick even.
The aforementioned Muhammad is still in that discussion as well and seems to be progressively getting better as he finds his way in Ben Howland’s system. He’s scored 20+ in each of his last two games, albeit against sub-par competition.
Maryland’s Alex Len warrants mention as well after the way he has doubled his production from last year and the way that skilled big men are coveted in the draft.
Obviously, the race for the top overall pick is still wide open with a lot of basketball to be played. But, one thing is for sure, McLemore is playing at a high enough level to look at him as a viable threat for the top spot.
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