KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Everyone agrees Kansas’ Ben McLemore has a smooth shot and is athletic.
“It’s effortless for him,” KU coach Bill Self said.
“He’s just an unbelievable scorer who does other things well,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
The top-seeded Jayhawks are hoping McLemore brings all those good things to Sunday’s NCAA Tournament game against the Tar Heel because when he doesn’t, KU is usually off its game.
“We all know as a group collectively, when he’s aggressive, we’re better,” Self said. “We have to get him to be a little more aggressive.”
McLemore, of course, is a freshman. He’s still trying to work this aggressive thing into his game.
He hasn’t played aggressively the past few games, including Friday night’s NCAA second-round victory over Western Kentucky. The shooter in him missed both three-point attempts.
All but four of his 11 points came at the free-throw line, most of them late when WKU was fouling to stop the clock and not because he was drawing the foul.
McLemore’s last two games of the Big 12 Tournament were also quiet. Not a good pattern for a team that needs him to be alive and active during the biggest moment of the season.
“I need to be more assertive, be free and have fun,” McLemore said.
He’s repeating what his coach has told him over and over.
“He’s young,” Self said. “This is his first time on a big stage. Certainly we need him in the game so much because he can do things to open up things for other guys.
“But people are going to guard Ben a certain way. They’re going to try to take away things that come easy for him, make him do things that don’t come as easy for him.”
Such as dribbling. He can shoot and make athletic moves to grab lobs for dunks, but he has a hard time creating his own shot.
So the scouting report says to get in McLemore’s face, take away his shot and force him to put the ball on the floor or pass.
To counter that, Self said McLemore has to be more aggressive about getting open ahead of taking the pass.
And when that doesn’t work, Self said McLemore – an 85.3-percent free-throw shooter – needs to figure a way to get to the line.
KU point guard Elijah Johnson figures his rough game against Western Kentucky contributed to McLemore’s off night.
“I never got plugged in,” said Johnson, who had three turnovers and two assists. “What happened to Ben, that all falls back on me.”
KU’s veterans are trying their best to take the pressure off McLemore. So is Self.
“He’s capable of doing it all,” Self said. “He’s got to be a kid, go out and enjoy the moment and just understand that it’s a game.
“He’s just part of it, trying to do his best and try to be a guy that has to carry our team.”