Xavier Henry, Josh Selby, Drew Gooden and the Morris twins never approached the rock-star status that awaits Ben McLemore leading up to March Madness and spilling into the NBA Draft.
In his second career Big 12 conference game, the possible top pick in the 2013 NBA Draft made his grand entrance onto college basketball’s big stage. Trailing Iowa State in the waning seconds at home against Iowa State, Kansas’ redshirt freshman Ben McLemore who is Internet-ionally famous for his exploits above the rim came flying off a high screen, reeled in pass from senior Elijah Johnson, turned and calmly banked home a trey from well behind the line to tie the score at 79 with a second to spare.
It was one of the 6-5 guard’s six three pointers of the evening and the Jayhawks rode the waves of Mclemore’s game-saving three to an overtime win. On top of his jetpack elevation, the kid can stroke it from deep, which is why the comparisons to Paul Pierce are considered an understatement. Did I mention the six threes McLemore shot all navigated their way through the net? His night was like Will Smith’s record of successful summer blockbusters; Perfect. McLemore made all seven free throws as well. This season, McLemore is shooting 51% from the field, 46% from three point land, 89% from the free throw line and averaging 16.9 points per game.
However, McLemore is more similar to Pierce with Vinsanity hops. More importantly, unlike Pierce, the 10th overall pick in '98, he may also be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA Draft.
Nerlen Noel, Shabazz Muhammad, Anthony Bennett and Marcus Smart may have a case but the prospect that has consistently put the entire arsenal on display for a one-loss team is McLemore. Conference play has begun, Big Dance seedings are being fought for, therefore, it only makes sense that the jostling for draft positioning gets more intense as well.
McLemore is the fast riser of this year’s class but UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad and Noel are the reigning mock draft champ. In his most recent NBA Draft Big Board rankings, SI.com’s Chris Mannix ranked McLemore fourth behind Noel, Muhammad and Len.
Before Christmas, McLemore wasn’t even considered a likely lottery pick and it won’t be long until scouts take a look at Noel and realize he’s more Marcus Camby than Anthony Davis.
Currently, Kansas fans and Usher Raymond echo the sentiments of NBA executives, ♪ If you really want McLemore, scream it out louder!. Push it to the limit, better start tanking moooore!!♪
Muhammad, the most touted freshman of 2012 class leads all freshmen in scoring, and holds an advantage in size of one inch and 30 pounds. However, he doesn’t possess McLemore’s elite athleticism, and he reminds many scouts of the Rockets ‘Bearded One’, James Harden. Wednesday night puts McLemore into the casual fans national consciousness and may begin the momentum that propels him to the top.
While he’s unlikely to get many votes among NBA GMs for the top prospect in June’s draft, San Diego State’s Jammal Franklin may be playing himself into the Player of the Year race and the draft lottery. While McLemore was busy showing off his range against Iowa State, Franklin was flashing his airbending wizardry. Leading the break in transition against Fresno State, Franklin raced down the court, lobbed an alley-oop from behind the arc off the backboard and caught it midair from a few feet away to flush it home with one hand. Franklin finished with a yeoman's workload of 20 points and 18 rebounds.
This season has been a revelation for the 6-5 Franklin, who balls out in what we'll assume is a turtleneck, has been forced to play out of position at power forward but is still registering exactly as many points as he did during his sophomore campaign,17.4 points, but is now Signma Phi double-double courtesy of his 10 boards per game. Earlier this season, Franklin made Muhammad look like the turtle and outscored the freshman phenom 28 to 16 in an Aztec win. His highlights included grand theft of Muhammad at the top of the key leading to a rim-rocking jam on the other end.
As for Muhammad and McLemore, history is a bigger deterrent for both than Hakeem Olajuwon guarding the rim against Spud Webb. A true shooting guard hasn’t been taken first overall since Austin Carr in 1971. That includes his Airness, who was at the time a two-time Naismith POY award winner at UNC.
Once the 2013 Draft approaches, fans will be more divided between Muhammad and McLemore than #TeamJacob and #TeamEdward. For now, McLemore has pushed slightly ahead in the first overall pick derby.