LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The hardest decision of Ben McLemore’s life turned out to be no question at all.
Kansas coach Bill Self made sure of it.
The talented guard announced Tuesday that he will enter the NBA draft after perhaps the most successful season by a freshman in the school’s proud basketball history. And just in case he thought twice about passing up professional riches, Self was ready to shove him out the door.
“Ben kept telling us in February, `Don’t worry about getting anybody else. I’m coming back,'” Self recalled. “I said, `Yeah, right. You want to make a public announcement?’ … If he told me he wanted to come back, I would have told him, `We need to look at this again.'”
That’s because McLemore’s stock couldn’t be much higher.
The second-team All-American is expected to be a lottery pick in June after breaking the Jayhawks’ freshman scoring record held by Danny Manning. McLemore averaged nearly 16 points for a team that went 31-6 and won a share of its ninth straight Big 12 championship.
“My mom, we talked, my family, talked to the coaches, and I made the decision that I’m going to enter the NBA draft,” said McLemore, who had several family members on hand at Allen Fieldhouse.
“I think it’s the best opportunity to help me and my family out,” he said, “and even as a kid, that’s what I wanted to do. I have an opportunity to provide for my family.”
McLemore is the third Kansas freshman coached by Self to leave school early. Shooting guard Xavier Henry was selected 12th overall by Memphis in 2010, and point guard Josh Selby was a late second-round pick of the Grizzlies the following year.
McLemore was forced to redshirt last season when he was declared a partial qualifier by the NCAA, but he made the most of his only season in Lawrence. With a dizzying array of dunks, a silky smooth outside shot and a boyish grin, he quickly became one of the school’s top players. He even graced a regional cover for Sports Illustrated prior to the start of the NCAA tournament.
“Growing up, I wasn’t the kid to be a fighter, like that, but coming to college, I had to mature and understand how I need to be to go play at the next level,” McLemore said. “I have to thank the coaching staff for that.”
McLemore helped the Jayhawks advance to the regional semifinals last month, where they blew a late lead and lost to eventual national runner-up Michigan. He scored 20 points in that game, and proved to have another trait that should come in handy in the NBA: A short memory.
He was 0 for 9 from the field in his previous game, a win over North Carolina.
No stage was too big for McLemore, either. He hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime in a win over Iowa State, poured in 30 points in a win over rival Kansas State and had a career-high 36 points against West Virginia late in the season.
McLemore hasn’t hired an agent, but said, “I’ll sit down and talk to some people and figure out where I want to sign and who I want to work with.”
McLemore’s departure, which had been expected, means the Jayhawks will have to replace all five starters from a team that finished 31-6 this season. Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Kevin Young were all seniors.
“On the surface it would look like a huge rebuilding job,” Self said, “but we’ve had rebuilding jobs here before.”
Self has already started to restock with one of the nation’s top recruiting classes, headlined by top-50 guards Conner Frankamp and Wayne Selden. Two other top-50 players, forward Brannen Greene and center Joel Embiid, have also signed along with point guard Frank Mason.
Self still has three scholarships available after McLemore’s departure and the decision this past week by freshman guard Anrio Adams to transfer closer to his home in Seattle.
The Jayhawks are still in the running for Andrew Wiggins, a 6-7 forward who many experts consider the top high school player in the country. Wiggins is being pursued by Kentucky, Florida State and North Carolina, and is expected to announce his intentions in the next few weeks.
Wiggins’ brother, Nick Wiggins, just finished his junior season with Wichita State.
“We’d like to add another piece or two, without question,” Self said. “It’s hard to say if we’re going to be good, or how good, but I’d be really surprised if next year’s team isn’t competitive, and doesn’t compete for championships, just like other teams we’ve had here.”