McLemore, Early create buzz

I see in the Kansasbasketball media guide that freshmen sensation Ben McLemore – yes, sensation -  lists LeBron James and Paul Pierce as his role models.

Interesting, since this morning I told somebody that McLemore might be the best KU player since Pierce.

Kansas freshman Ben McLemore.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be difficult to put his place in Kansas lore into context because it will be shocking if McLemore isn’t a one-and-done player for the Jayhawks.

McLemore had a game for the ages in Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday night, scoring 33 points on 10 of 12 shooting. He made all six of his three-pointers, including a bank shot from just left of the top of the key to send the Jayhawks’ game with Iowa State into overtime. KU was going to lose this game, people, before McLemore made that almost-impossible-to-make shot. From there, Kansas won in overtime, 97-89.

McLemore has some Pierce in his game, especially with his ability to shoot. He’s a 46 percent three-point shooter and is making nearly 90 percent of his free throws. He rebounds, passes and is becoming a better and better defender. Would it surprise anyone if McLemore is the top pick in this summer’s NBA draft?

There was great anticipation about the 6-foot-5 McLemore, who was declared a partial qualifier last season and had to sit out games, though he did practice with KU. He’s better than anyone thought he was going to be, and the sky was pretty much the limit.

And while it’s accurate to compare elements of his game to Pierce, dare I say it’s also spot on to say he’s got a little Michael Jordan in him. Have you seen McLemore dunk? Have you watched him drive to the basket and soar? Are you going to sit there and tell me that the Jordan comparison is blatantly unfair and that it puts undue pressure on McLemore to be something he’s not?

You might, but I’m not going to listen to you.

I am not saying McLemore is Jordan, the greatest player of all-time. Jordan was legendary not only for his skills, but for his killer demeanor and the cut-throat way he approached playing basketball. Jordan was a lock-down defender and McLemore isn’t there yet. And Jordan had at least an inch on McLemore.

But there are similarities. Enough of them to at least mention McLemore in the same sentence with Jordan, whether you want me to or not.

Now, what about Wichita State junior forward Cleanthony Early? He scored 39 effortless points against Southern Illinois on Wednesday night in a game the Shockers had to fight harder than expected to win.

Wichita State junior forward Cleanthony Early.

Early made 13 of 19 shots, including five of nine from three-point range. He was eight of 10 from the free-throw line and had six rebounds.

Early’s 39 were the most points by a Shocker since Jan. 26, 1985, when Xavier McDaniel scored 44 against West Texas State. Only five players in WSU history have scored 40 in a game: Dave Stallworth (four times); McDaniel (twice); Al Tate; Ron Harris and Antoine Carr, whose 47 points against Southern Illinois almost 30 years ago still stands as the record.

So since I compared McLemore to Pierce and Jordan (yes, I did) earlier, who does Early compare to?

McDaniel? Not really. The X-Man liked to stay inside the pain and was a brute force when it came to rebounding. Early can rebound, but he enjoys wandering the perimeter, too.

Carr? Well, there are some similarities, although Carr carried more bulk. Like Carr, Early is an exception athlete who can run and jump. But when I watch Early play, I don’t think of Carr.

Cliff Levingston? No. While they have similar athleticism, Early is a much more dangerous perimeter scorer than Good News (Levingston’s nickname).

You know who Early kind of reminds me of? Are you ready for this?

It’s Stallworth, the greatest player in Shocker history. No, just because Early reminds me of Stallworth doesn’t mean I think Early is a better player than Stallworth. Stop asking such silly questions.

What it means is that they’re similar in stature, play complete games and have some flair in their game. Early, as he gets more and more comfortable, is going to show us just how instinctive he is when it comes to playing basketball. You can see it starting to happen because of how loose he’s starting to play. That wasn’t the case earlier, when Early was adjusting to the Division I game.

To repeat.

McLemore is not Jordan and Early is not Stallworth. I’m not saying that at all.

But for the sake of comparison, I see some MJ in McLemore and some Dave the Rave in Early. Enough that it’s probably time to come up with a catchy nickname for the Shocker forward.