When Kansas recruits Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor were ruled academically ineligible to begin the 2011-2012 season, a Final Four berth seemed to be a distant dream for the Jayhawks.
Without his top two recruits, Bill Self shortened his rotation, clamped down on defense once again, and led his team all the way to the national title game.
McLemore was Self’s top-rated recruit in 2012, and he elected to stay at Kansas, where he was allowed to practice with the team in the second semester of his season in the wings. The 6’5″ small forward from St. Louis garnered a backhanded compliment from Bill Self, who told Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan, “[H]e’s as good a prospect as anybody we have in the gym. Period. And if you were to ask Thomas and Tyshawn who the best prospect is, including themselves, they both would say Ben McLemore. Now, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Self said. “He has no concept of certain things. His handle and passing ability reminds me of Brandon Rush when he was young, which if you remember, wasn’t great.”
In other words, McLemore is a bundle of raw potential who needs a smart coach to give him direction. Sounds like… every Kansas player who took the court in the national title game this year. McLemore has a semester of high-quality practice in the Kansas system under his belt, and he’s shown that he’ll put in the work without requiring immediate rewards. With Thomas Robinson expected to declare for the NBA draft, Kansas may well field a smaller lineup next season, with Elijah Johnson, McLemore and 6’6” Travis Releford in the mix to start alongside Jeff Withey and some combination of relative newcomers on the blocks.
If this season taught us anything about Kansas, it’s that the Jayhawks can never be counted out, no matter how inexperienced the roster may be. Bill Self’s ability to turn raw athletic marvels into disciplined defenders and opportunistic scorers has been well proven. If he is already comparing McLemore to Rush – even in a young, clumsy Rush – there’s no percentage in betting the under.