McLemore leads by example as a Freshman
Ever since the loss to Michigan State on Nov. 13th, Kansas has prevailed in every single game, winning 16 straight. This team inherits a trait common among Bill Self-coached teams: mental toughness.
Of those last 16 games, 6 of those have been decided by 8 points or less and 4 of those have been on the road or at a neutral site.
This team hasn’t hit its stride completely yet, but it’s learning how to find a way to win when not on its best game.
The 2012-2013 squad, off to a good start in its quest for a 9th straight Big 12 regular season title, hasn’t been flashy by any means. But that doesn’t matter as long as you get into the win column.
A unique mix of talent, led by four senior starters with Final Four experience, also features plenty of youth. The other starter is future NBA lottery pick Ben McLemore, with two more freshmen and a sophomore coming off the bench.
McLemore is the perfect guy for this team and exactly what it was missing last year. A quiet guy by nature, McLemore is a freakish athlete. He was ineligible last season along with Jamari Traylor, but clearly benefitted from practice time last season and has blossomed into a national player of the year candidate this season.
In fact, Self often described McLemore as the best player in practice last season, even with the likes of current NBA players Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor on the team.
We have all seen McLemore’s athletic ability on full display in the month of January, highlighted by several SportsCenter top 10-caliber dunks and an incredible 33 point performance against Iowa State in which he went 6-6 from 3-point range.
McLemore managed to tie the game from beyond the arc by banking in a three pointer in the closing seconds of regulation of that game to send it to overtime. Of course, Kansas took over in the extra period and won the game. To many, that was one of the best overall games and one of the best performances by a player that they had ever seen in historic Allen Fieldhouse.
Last week, in a Big Monday matchup against Baylor, Kansas had victory in its grasp in the final minutes when McLemore rolled his ankle and slapped the floor in pain.
Many criticized the stud freshman still being in the game that point, but questions as to whether McLemore was healthy were answered in the next game at Texas. McLemore played 37 minutes in Austin and went 6-10 from the field, scoring 16 points.
Last night, KU traveled west on I-70 to take on the in-state rival Kansas State Wildcats and gutted out another close win. Well, that’s if you want to call it a rivalry. Kansas has won 45 of the last 48 meetings and is now 23-2 at Bramlage Coliseum.
McLemore was quiet in the first half, but the team responded in a great way when McLemore woke up in the 2nd half, netting 9 of his 11 points. He also added 5 rebounds and a couple of massive blocked shots on back to back possessions in which he showcased his ridiculous athletic ability.
McLemore has an indisputable impact on the game. It’s really quite remarkable that a freshman can perform this well in pressure situations with this much ease. I have no doubt that, with the help of his senior-laden team, he can get the job done in March and, by example, lead KU to Atlanta.