This Christmas KU head coach Bill Self knows he has something special. This gift may not be walking around with a big red bow on it but Jayhawk fans are enjoying all the talents and skills that freshman Ben McLemore brings.
Tuesday McLemore was rewarded for his recent efforts earning Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors. It comes on heels of two outstanding performances - one against Richmond and one on the road vs. Ohio State.
The 6-5 McLemore averaged 18.0 ppg last week scoring 14 at home against Richond on 5-9 shooting. But his most impressive outing might've been on the road in Columbus, Ohio against a team he watched KU take on twice last season. His team-high 22 points in Buckeye-land was a team-high and McLemore now leads KU and all Big 12 freshmen in scoring at 16.5 ppg.
"I really don't focus on scoring," McLemore told reporters after his 22-point outing in his first road game. "I like to focus on getting my teammates involved and playing defense and just creating for my other teammates and just getting my teammates involved and just play as a team."
McLemore was a highly-ranked shooting guard when he gave KU the nod but despite the high praise from his head coach McLemore has always remained humble and knows he has a lot to learn about playing the game at this level.
"Ben is an unbelievable talent but he's still trying to figure out how to play," said Self.
But Self has pointed out that Ben is a coach's dream because he's willing to be coached. Self has called McLemore the best freshman he's ever had which is high praise coming from the 10-year KU head coach. He's been compared to Brandon Rush but really McLemore is doing things even Rush didn't do as freshman. Rush could always shoot it and McLemore is proving to be just as formidable from long range shooting over 40 percent from the floor and making 5-9 threes just last week (including 3-3 vs. OSU0. His jump shot is just as pretty and smooth as Brandon's. But McLemore is getting better at the defensive end and may have even more versatility right now than Rush did as a freshman.
"You can tell in late game situation he's played less basketball then anybody as old as him that's as good as him around," Self continued. "So it's all new to him and when he figures out how to put himself in situations and understand time score and momentum and things like that where it comes natural to him, he's going to become terrific and right now he's good, but he's a natural scorer. He makes it look pretty effortless the way he scores the ball."
All the great ones do.
When McLemore was playing AAU basketball the reasons top programs were coveting him were glaringly apparent. He possessed qualities you can't coach. Long arms, tremendous athletic ability, and a feel and smoothness to his game that is usually reserved for the game's most talented players. I've said it before, the best around make the game look easy. They play at a different level and somehow the game slows down for them. McLemore fits that description.
His dunks have electrified the crowd but he is way more than just a highlight waiting to happen.
He's been responsible for KU getting off to quick starts lately and don't underestimate the importance of seeing that first shot go in for McLemore and for his teammates. His fellow Jayhawks will tell you how humble he is and how much he listens and absorbs always looking to get better with his teammates and coaches wanting to instill more confidence.
Even the freshman's first true road test appeared to leave him unfazed. When the game got under 5 minutes McLemore went on a 6-0 run of his own to keep Ohio State at a distance. When Ben learns even more about these momentum plays it is scary to think how good he can be.
"I didn't talk to him about it," Self responded when asked if he thought Ben was nervous prior to the Ohio St. game. "I sensed that he could've been but we got off to a pretty good start and made a couple of shots and I think that even though he made his first three that could kind of take the pressure off but he was really bad for the next couple of minutes and then he kind of settled down after that."
"This experience was great," said McLemore. "This was my first time playing an away game with this type of crowd. At first I was a little nervous but that's what happens with your first game away. going up and down the court just a little bit I just played my game and stayed with intensity so I just got out there and played my game."
And that game has been fun for all to watch and given fans plenty to look forward to in 2013. Ben lists his favorite quote as "It's ok to be great," and we just might find out how "ok" it is sooner rather than later.