McLemore’s flights help KU ground Belmont

LAWRENCE, Kan.Click. Oh, man. Man, oh man, oh man.

Click. Holy schnikes!

Click. Wow.

Click. Did you see that?

Except for the whole defying-Newton’s-law-of-gravity part, he’s human.
Like the rest of us, Ben McLemore gets a kick out of watching Ben
McLemore dunks on YouTube, too.

“I’ve got a couple of favorites,”
the Kansas redshirt freshman guard said after the Jayhawks chewed up
Belmont in an 89-60 rout. “I can say
I’ve got actually two favorites. The one from Oregon State — that was a
great one. That was one of the best ones.

“Then I think against
(San Jose State), when I did the windmill, that one was a great one. I
was actually preparing that dunk and telling all my teammates that, ‘If I
could just fast break, I’m going to do a windmill.’ And that’s what I
did. I got the fast break, and I got the windmill, and it was crazy.”

McLemore smiled at the crazy for the second. Then he nodded over to a spot over on the Allen Fieldhouse floor.

“I always go back and look at that dunk, just to see: ‘How far did I
jump out from the box?'” McLemore continued. “It was about from
maybe before that second hash mark, so it was pretty far.”

While
on the subject of far, the last time McLemore, a wiry 6-foot-5,
had his vertical leap measured, he said the number checked in at around
40 inches, give or take. That’s LeBron James territory, Shawn Kemp
territory, Julius Erving territory, the rarest of air.

“Pretty
high,” said McLemore, who netted 17 points against the Bruins and leads
the 8-1 Jayhawks in scoring at 16.1 per game. “But I think it could get
higher.”

He’s serious, too. Nine games into his first collegiate
season, McLemore’s dunks — especially the beaut against the Beavers on
Nov. 30 — are already becoming the stuff
of legend in Lawrence, which is saying something, considering the
history at this place. The locals got two more to chew on Saturday
night, both coming late in the first half against Belmont, a plucky
little bunch from Nashville, an NCAA tourney perennial that already had a
win against Stanford under its belt.

The first flight came with
about 2:36 left in the half, a one-hander off the break with more
hang-time than a Ray Guy punt. The second was shorter, more violent and
compact, the receiving end of an alley-oop from point guard Elijah
Johnson as time expired.

The latter also offered up a bit of the
surreal, as No. 23 was fouled as he floated back to Earth. While the
officials checked the monitor to affirm that it happened before the end
of the half, Belmont cleared its bench and hightailed it back to the
visitors’ locker room. Half the Kansas cadre was in the tunnel, too,
waiting to see if McLemore would be called back. He was, and, before an otherwise empty court, sunk the free throw that gave the hosts a 44-28 halftime lead.

“Pshew,” Bruins coach Rick Byrd exclaimed when
asked about McLemore, who also drained four 3-pointers, grabbed five
rebounds and dished out three assists. “If he can rise up and shoot it
like that, he’s just going to be a bear for anybody to guard. That was
impressive. And he was shooting, what, 31 percent from 3?

“Our
thought was to approach him under control, get a hand up, and if he
makes shots, they were going to beat us. He’s the real deal, for sure.”

The scary part: the real deal, by McLemore’s own admission, hasn’t even figured this game out yet.

The kid’s learning as he goes, especially on defense, with stretches that seem as if he’s thinking first and reacting second. That’ll come. In time, that’ll come.

“For me, sitting out last year (because of
academics), I think, was definitely a blessing,” McLemore said. “I
think it was just, for me, a learning experience … I’m definitely
learning more (this) year, and I’m still learning. I mean, it’s just a
blessing to be able to play the game of basketball.

“Just having fun out there. That’s basically what I’m doing. Just out there, having fun.”

It
shows. The St. Louis native is relishing center stage, the hype and the
love, always quick with a laugh, the sort of happy that becomes
infectious after a while.

Winning is a whole mess of fun, and the
Jayhawks, winners of seven in a row, are playing right now like it’s a
party. When a reporter asked senior swingman Travis Releford if his
wicked second-half reverse dunk off the break was a case of
out-McLemoring McLemore, he almost blushed at the thought.

“I
wouldn’t say that,” Releford replied. “That wasn’t one of my better
dunks. I don’t think I got off as high as I could. I’d rather see him do
a breakaway dunk than me.”

McLemore, sitting to Releford’s left, grinned.

“Appreciate it,” the freshman said, quietly.

See? Just out there, having fun.

“I like LeBron James dunks, definitely,” McLemore said, smiling at the crazy again. “When I get another fast break, I’m definitely going to do one of his dunks. So be prepared to be watching that.”

Pshew.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler

or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com