The wait last nearly 50 minutes. Ben McLemore sat at a table inside the green room at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The night had dragged on, the wait had continued, and the names kept coming off the board.
For weeks, McLemore, a freshman guard from Kansas, had expected to go in the top five of the NBA Draft. But here he was, waiting, waiting, waiting.
Finally, at shortly before 7:20 p.m. Thursday, McLemore heard his name called by NBA commissioner David Stern. The Sacramento Kings selected McLemore with the seventh overall pick.
“Thank God for supporting me,” McLemore said, “and being there for me all the way.”
A few minutes later, McLemore mentioned his older brother, Keith Scott, who is serving a prison sentence at Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Mo.
“I love him; I wish he could be here,” McLemore said. “But he’s here in spirit.”
In the weeks leading up to the draft, McLemore’s draft stock had reportedly begun to slip, the result of some sub-par workouts and an unclear relationship with Rodney Blackstock, the man who reportedly gave money to McLemore’s former AAU coach during the KU basketball season.
McLemore eventually signed with Blackstock, who has become a certified agent.
Kansas coach Bill Self was also in the green room at the Barclays Center, traveling to New York to provide a measure of support for his former freshman star.
It was the second consecutive year that Kansas had a player taken in the first round by Sacramento. Former Kansas All-American Thomas Robinson was drafted fifth overall in last year’s draft.
The night completed a fairly meteoric rise for McLemore, who arrived at Kansas in 2011 as an athletic shooting guard from the Wellston neighborhood of St. Louis. He sat out his first season at Kansas, taking a redshirt season after being deemed a partial qualifier by the NCAA. And during his redshirt season, as Kansas advanced to the NCAA title game, Self often said that McLemore was the Jayhawks’ most naturally gifted player.
After a year of waiting, McLemore finally had a chance to prove it last season, averaging 15.9 points and 5.2 rebounds during his redshirt freshman season. McLemore had the gift to make it look easy — so easy that it was often wondered whether he had the mindset to be a dominant player. The same concerns persisted as McLemore went through the pre-draft process.
Now McLemore gets his opportunity to prove himself, even if it took a little longer than expected.
The night began with an early stunner at No. 1, when the Cleveland Cavaliers opted for UNLV freshman forward Anthony Bennett. The Orlando Magic followed by taking Indiana guard Victor Oladipo with the second pick. And that allowed the Washington Wizards to stay close to home and select Georgetown swingman Otto Porter Jr. at No. 3.
The surprises continued at No. 4, when the Charlotte Bobcats selected Indiana forward Cody Zeller. For McLemore and Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, who were both considered candidates for the No. 1 overall pick, the freefall was stunning. And it continued as the Phoenix Suns took Maryland center Alex Len with the No. 5 pick.
Noel finally went No. 6 to New Orleans, and that set the stage for McLemore.
Finally, he heard his name.