Ben McLemore strolled into the Olathe East gymnasium, pressing his way past a crowd of people. It was just past 7:15 on Thursday night, and McLemore, wearing cut-off jeans shorts and a grey baseball T-shirt, was scheduled to be the special guest at former KU guard Mario Chalmers’ celebrity all-star game.
As McLemore moved to the far end of the gym, searching for a seat along the bench, a crowd of 10 to 15 fans had congregated behind him. One moment later, the crowd had swelled to more than 20.
“Please!” a voice barked on the PA system. “Do not crowd the players!”
There is little doubt, of course, that McLemore’s life has changed plenty in the last two months. He was picked by the Sacramento Kings in the NBA Draft in late June. Survived his first dose of the NBA summer league. And had cameras follow his every move for a day for a special feature on the Kings website.
But on Thursday night, here was a moment that felt familiar, McLemore surrounded by Jayhawks fans in a gym in Kansas.
“He just invited me to be here,” McLemore said of Chalmers, nearly seven years his senior. “I wanted to show my support.”
For now, McLemore is back in Kansas after an uneven stint for the Kings’ summer league team in Las Vegas. It was something of a learning experience, McLemore says, maybe a wake-up call to the pressures of NBA basketball. One night, he was making just four for 23 in his summer debut on July 13. The next week, he was kindly putting Atlanta’s Mike Scott on a poster, finishing with 27 points against the Hawks.
In five games, McLemore averaged 15.8 points while shooting just 33 percent from the floor. It wasn’t always pleasant, but McLemore says he learned a few lessons while struggling to find his rhythm.
“The whole maturity thing,” McLemore said on Thursday night. “The whole ‘getting used to the next level’ type stuff. The NBA is a different feel … and I just had to get used to it. Coming in, I struggled a little bit until I got used to it. But I adjusted to it good.”
Before the draft, the questions surrounding McLemore usually focused on whether he had the mentality to be a leading man in the NBA. In a small sample size in Vegas, McLemore seemed bound and determined to quell those doubts, hoisting up more than 15 shots per game without recording one assist in five games. But in truth, McLemore says, he just wanted to show off his well-rounded game.
“When I went in there, I just wanted to work on my all-around game,” McLemore said. “Just go in there and play ball; go out there and have fun and work on little things, ballhandling and stuff like that.”
For now, McLemore is taking some time off while keeping up with his workouts at KU. His time in Lawrence coincided with Chalmers’ return, and Chalmers asked McLemore to be his guest on Thursday night. Former Jayhawks Russell Robinson, Jeff Graves, Brady Morningstar and Conner Teahan were also on hand.
“Mario’s game is great,” McLemore said. “I love his game. I’m definitely going to try to get a lot of advice from him throughout the season, because he played at the same school as me. And he’s been there for a while, so he knows the life.”
Yes, the life. After a few more days in Lawrence, McLemore says, he planned to return home to St. Louis for a few days before heading to the NBA Rookie Transition Program in August. It’s all moving fast, he says, so fast that he still hasn’t found a place to live in Sacramento.
That will come later, maybe as he gets more settled.
“I leave here (and) go home for a couple days,” McLemore said, “and then it’s back to work.”