LAWRENCE — After a debut season in which he set the Jayhawks’ freshman scoring record with 15.9 points per game, Ben McLemore announced Tuesday at a news conference that he will forgo his remaining three years of college eligibility to enter the NBA Draft.
“I think that’s the best opportunity to me to help me and my family out,” said McLemore, a 6-foot-5 guard. “Now I have the opportunity to do that.
“Being here I changed a lot, and I matured a lot. To be here and share this special day is a blessing.”
McLemore, 20, was a first-team all-Big 12 selection and second-team All-America selection by The Associated Press. His scoring average broke Danny Manning’s freshman scoring record of 14.6 points per game. McLemore scored at least 20 points in 10 games, including three 30-point games. His 36-point game against West Virginia on March 2 broke the KU freshman single-game record.
“This is not bittersweet at all,” KU coach Bill Self said of McLemore’s departure. “This is sweet-sweet.”
McLemore led KU with 20 points in his final college game, an 87-85 overtime loss to Michigan in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. He helped the Jayhawks, 31-6, to a Big 12 co-championship, their ninth consecutive regular-season conference title either won or shared, and a Big 12 tournament title.
He redshirted the 2011-12 season as a partial academic qualifier but practiced with KU during the second half of the year as the Jayhawks reached the national title game.
“In order for us to be good with the guys we lost last year, even with some returning leadership and some really good, solid veteran players, we needed a freshman to step up and be great for us,” Self said. “And Ben was that.
“I think he’s improved in all phases, but I don’t even think he’s scratched the surface of what he can be, which I think is an All-Star eventually.”
McLemore said he had the encouragement of his teammates and Self to turn pro.
“They said if it’s your time, it’s your time,” McLemore said. “It was my time.”
Projected as a top-five pick by many NBA Draft experts, McLemore is aiming to become the 10th KU player coached by Self to be chosen in the first round.
“From what I’ve seen, everyone’s got him one, two or three,” Self said, “and I can’t see him fall out of that range, because he’ll work.”
McLemore’s departure means Self must replace all five starters for the first time since the season after KU won the NCAA title in 2008. It also means Self lost his top five leading scorers for the first time. Besides McLemore, who led KU in scoring, the Jayhawks lost seniors Jeff Withey (13.7), Travis Releford (11.9), Elijah Johnson (9.9) and Kevin Young (7.8)
KU has three available scholarships for the 2013-14 season. Self has already signed five players for next season’s class: Wichita guard Conner Frankamp, combo guard Wayne Selden, Georgia wing Brannen Greene, point guard Frank Mason, and center Joel Embiid.
The Jayhawks are still in the running for No. 1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins, a 6-foot-7 swingman from Huntington (W.Va.) Prep.
Even without Wiggins, KU’s 2013 recruiting class is ranked second by Rivals.com and is rated either second or third by most recruiting services, which Self said was “underrated.”
Self’s KU players drafted in the first round:
• 2005: Wayne Simien
• 2007: Julian Wright
• 2008: Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur
• 2010: Xavier Henry, Cole Aldrich
• 2011: Marcus and Markieff Morris
• 2012: Thomas Robinson