By Rustin Dodd
LAWRENCE — Ben McLemore is the leading scorer on the ninth-ranked team in America. Last week, he became the first freshman in KU history to go for 30 points twice in conference play when he dropped in 30 in an 83-62 victory over Kansas State.
Shortly after, The Eagle profiled McLemore’s journey to Kansas and his transformation into one of the country’s best players. With a matchup with fellow freshman phenom Marcus Smart looming on Wednesday at Oklahoma State, here are five more facts about Kansas’ late-blooming, sharp-shooting and people-pleasing young star.
1 With 13 points in Kansas’ 73-47 victory over Texas on Saturday, McLemore moved in to fourth place on KU’s single-season freshmen scoring list. McLemore, who now has 417 points this season, passed Paul Pierce (404 in ‘95-96) and Kerry Boagni (408 in ‘82-83).
McLemore, averaging 16.7 points per game, is two points ahead of Danny Manning’s record for freshman scoring average (14.6); and with a strong finish, he’ll have a compelling case for the best freshman season in KU history.
McLemore is on pace to finish with the fifth-most rebounds by a KU freshman — ahead of Darrell Arthur, Pierce or Scott Pollard — and the third-most three-point buckets, behind only J.R. Giddens (74) and Jeff Boschee (79).
2 Here is the story of McLemore’s first flight. He was in the eighth grade at Curtis Bishop Middle School in Wellston, Mo. And one day, while shooting in the gym during lunch, McLemore decided to take another run at the rim. This would be his first dunk.
He’d tried for years, of course. Dreamed about finally flushing one like the pros. But he’d never been able to officially claim a dunk. He couldn’t quite get the ball over the rim. Finally, one day, McLemore set up his approach and got just enough lift to push the ball in the basket while his fingers scraped the rim.
McLemore felt a feeling of release … until his friends tried to claim it wasn’t a true dunk.
“Some people say it was like a hard layup,” McLemore says, smiling. “I called it a dunk. I just definitely said: ‘OK, I’m gonna try to do it. And I just ran up and dunked it.’ ”
3 For the better part of the last two months, McLemore has drawn comparisons to former UConn star Ray Allen, an All-Star shooting guard with an immaculate jumper. He’s not the only recent college shooting guard to garner the comp. Former Florida guard Bradley Beal — another St. Louis native who played one summer of AAU ball with McLemore — was compared to Allen while going through the NBA Draft process last summer. (Beal was taken third overall by the Washington Wizards.)
Last month, SI’s Luke Winn broke down the freshman statistics of all three players. McLemore, of course, has the advantage of a redshirt season, but here’s an updated look at how McLemore compares to Beal and Allen.
Pts/40 minutes: 21.1
3PA/Total Shots: 113/274 (41 percent of his shots from three-point range)
3PA/Total Shots: 82/310 (26%)
3PA/Total Shots: 186/393 (47%)
4 McLemore may be having one of the best shooting seasons by a freshman in recent history. According to College Basketball Reference’s “Play Index”, which keeps stats back to the 1998-99 season, McLemore could become the first freshman from a major (BCS-level) conference to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three, and 85 percent from the free-throw line (minimum: 200 shots).
McLemore is currently shooting 43 percent from the floor, 51 percent from three and 87 percent from the free-throw line:
Here’s the list of BCS conference freshmen that have shot 40/50/80 during the same span: North Carolina’s Marvin Williams (’04-05); Georgetown’s Austin Freeman (’07-08); and Duke Kyrie Irving* (‘10-11). Williams and Freeman were far from the first option on their respective teams, while Irving was limited to just 11 games by injury.
5 Here is the nickname story. McLemore is not quite sure how it happened, but at some point last season, while he was redshirting in Lawrence, the Jayhawks’ upperclassmen bestowed a nickname on the coltish freshman: Young Sav … short for Young Savage.
“I got that nickname as soon as I got here,” McLemore says. “(They said) ‘You’re name is Young Sav. Just all the players from last year. ‘You a savage, man. You a Sav.’ To this day, I still don’t know what it means.
These days, McLemore is still trying to turn on the “Sav” as much as possible. He’s a freshman, starting alongside four upperclassmen, and he’s always been the type to let the game come to him. For now, he’s trying to embrace the nickname.
“I don’t know,” McLemore says. “You say a lion is a savage, because they go out there and just hunt and hunt and hunt … and get whatever they want. I think that’s pretty much why they call me Young Sav.”