McLemore Values Top Ten

Ben McLemore

One year ago, it would have been easy to overlook Ben McLemore's on the basketball court.

The 6-foot-5 phenom, formerly of Wellston (MO) Eskridge High School, had yet to play his junior season of high school basketball – which means he had yet to make the transition from undersized power forward to physically-ideal shooting guard.

As has been well documented, that position shift has made all the difference. It allowed Ben McLemore to flourish, to put his freakish athleticism and high skill level on full display. College coaches and talent scouts alike began to sit up and take notice, and the future unfolded before him with a world of heretofore unforeseen possibilities.

Joining the famed St. Louis Eagles AAU squad prior to the summer proved to be the final piece of the puzzle. Now, far from being overlooked, McLemore is impossible to miss.

"I got more exposure when I came out with the Eagles," McLemore said. "A lot of people didn't know who I was. So I started playing my style of game, and people started asking 'Who's that kid? Who's that Ben McLemore?'"

But the way he sees it, his mission is far from complete.

"I feel like I should be up there with the top 10 (prospects)," he added. "I've gotta keep working hard every day to get up there."

Last weekend, McLemore joined 99 of the most talented high school basketball prospects in the country in Charlottesville, Va., on the campus of the University of Virginia, for the National Basketball Player's Association Top 100 camp.

The annual camp is set up to improve the gathered talent in both body and mind. During the course of the four-day event, attendees push their basketball abilities to the limit during drill work with former and current NBA stars and intense team competitions.

Perhaps more important to their long-term development however, is the time spent off the court. Those same NBA athletes go to considerable lengths to school  their youthful proteges on the fiscal and emotional maturity required to be successful in The League.

In all aspects, McLemore found the experience invaluable.

"I took a lot of their advice, former NBA players and retired NBA players," he explained. "Information about life. You've gotta be humble and hard working."

It's been a time of change for McLemore in matters outside of basketball as well. When Eskridge High School closed its doors at the conclusion of the 2009-2010 academic year, it was for the last time – leaving him without a scholastic home for his senior year.

McLemore is the first to admit he has work to do in the classroom to get himself eligible for college by the end of next year. So when legendary Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. came calling, it sounded to him like the perfect fit.

But not because of the school's reputation for fielding elite basketball talent. No, McLemore was more concerned with their ability to help him get his grades in order – a task at which he is already hard at work through summer classes.

"I talked to (Head Coach Steve) Smith, he said they have good academics and they've got college preparation classes for me," he said. "I was thinking 'This should help me.' I wasn't worrying about basketball at the time, I just needed to get my grades (right)."

There was one problem, however. McLemore's mother wasn't convinced. She felt going to such a high profile school, so far from their home in St. Louis, would prove too much for her son to handle. Additionally, it would be difficult for her to see him play, outside of the rare occasions on which Oak Hill games are broadcast on national television.

But Ben felt it was a window he couldn't let close, and began working to show his mom why attending the school would be such a big step in the right direction for his future.

Things culminated recently with a heart-to-heart conversation between mother and son.

At the end of almost two hours of discussion, he said, his mom asked him a simple question.

"Is it too late for you to go?"

Ben answered in the negative.

"She was like, 'You'd better pack your stuff, you're going to Oak Hill," he recalled, a smile evident in his voice. "All I did was start smiling and say 'I love you, and thank you so much.'"

With his future path now seemingly settled, the present continues to demand McLemore's attention. Next up for him? A trip to Chicago this weekend, where he'll be among 15 of the top wing prospects in the country at the Paul Pierce Skills Academy.

It may seem like an exhausting schedule, even for the seemingly limitless energy of youth. But McLemore knows the road to the top is one not easily traveled.

"Every day I work harder and harder," he said. "I always said I wanted to get there with the rest of the Top 10, and the Top 100 (prospects). And I made it, but I still have a long ways to go though."

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