KU fans took time out from Andrew Wiggins mania Thursday night to watch the NBA Draft with a curious eye. Many wondering where a few key cogs to last season's Big 12 Championship team would end up.
It wasn't exactly a draft night that went by the books or really by ANYBODY'S mock draft. There were plenty of unknowns entering the 2013 NBA Draft. When Nerlens Noel's name wasn't called with the first pick you got the impression it was going to be a wild night.
In the middle of the craziness was KU's Ben McLemore. Dressed in a suit and bow tie donning the Jayhawk colors McLemore patiently waited to in the green room to hear his name. He was surrounded by family and his representation. McLemore also asked KU Head Coach Bill Self to be in New York with him for this special night.
"I wanted to be there because he asked me to be there," said Self. "He said he and his family wanted me there. That was the biggest thing. Those kids only get six tickets and when you're counting agents to be one or two, then your family and all this kind of stuff. So a lot of times, there isn't the space for everybody to go. I think it's more important for people that have played a huge role in their life overtime to be there the most. I was really proud to be there tonight with Ben and his family."
There were rumors entering the draft that McLemore's stock was dropping. There were questions about his conditioning, his mental ability to take over a game and be that Alpha Dog. A few teams apparently came away without enough conviction to select the 6-5 guard. But most of the "experts" believed Ben would be one of the best, if not the best talent to come out of this draft. LeBron James even tweeted his support of KU's star freshman saying, "They sleeping on Ben McLemore. Just watch."
His shooting ability was through the roof and so was his athleticism. The knock was that he couldn't put it on the floor and he couldn't create his own shot. Though I don't promote the Ray Allen comparisons, similar things were said when Allen first hit the league.
Finally, with the 7th pick in the draft Sacramento took the 6-5 wing. Ironically the Kings were the same team that drafted Thomas Robinson who was eventually traded during his rookie season. McLemore did not workout for the Kings but new owner Vivek Ranadive said, "we got the best player in the (draft) at seven."
"Ben had no idea where he would go," Self said via conference call after the draft. "I don't think that's totally unusual. We felt like he had a real good shot of going to Charlotte, but the bottom line is ended up going just where he needed to be. I think this will be motivation for him, but will also give him a sense of the fact that this is a business. I thought he handled everything great."
While you could see the anguish on Noel's face grow with every pick McLemore appeared to be calm. Yes, McLemore was rumored to go anywhere from 1-5 for most of the pre-draft hype but as the day inched closer he was being touted closer to going 5th vs. 1st. Phoenix at 5th was originally a popular predicted destination. If McLemore was angry about going 7th he certainly didn't show it Thursday night.
"I don't think that a competitor needs to go two spots lower to get fired up," Self assessed. "Maybe it will a little bit and if it does, that's great. But with this draft, was there ever any idea where anybody was going? There's not that much difference in the guys. So Ben could've gone higher or he could've just as easily gone exactly where he did. I didn't see tonight as a negative in any way, shape or form."
Sacramento has had 7 straight losing seasons. McLemore will head there to a town that loves its NBA hoops but he won't have the pressure of a big market team. This could be exactly the type of environment Ben needs to become that takeover type player. He will get plenty of playing time and will be relied on heavily.
"I have no reason to think of it as anything other than positive," Self said about McLemore ending up with the Kings. "I don't know the situation with the new coach or the new general manager, but I do think that community loves basketball because they just spent a ton of money to make sure they stay there. There's going to be a lot of excitement and Ben has the chance to go in there and impact that."
For KU's 7-foot center Jeff Withey draft night was a different animal. There were no green rooms, no lottery locks, and really no first round guarantees.
Withey was at home surrounded by family in San Diego hoping his name would be called in the first round. It was a very different feeling than what McLemore was going through.
"Watching the draft is a very stressful thing because it goes by so slow," said Withey. "You're watching and see commercials. My whole thought process was ‘maybe the next one, maybe the next one.' And when my name was finally called, it was kind of a relief."
Withey missed out on the first round but his name was finally called 39th in the second round by the Portland Trail Blazers.
"I felt very happy to be a part of being able to go to a cool place like Portland. Right away I was on the internet, searching Portland and what the city is like. I'm really happy with it and very excited to go there," Withey said.
Ironically, Portland was not one of the teams Withey worked out for. The San Diego native was looking at possibly going to any team picking 15-30. The positives are he will get to play on the west coast close to family but missing out on the 3-year guaranteed contract that the first round offers was still a hit.
"There are definitely benefits being drafted in the first round rather than the second round but I'm just happy to be selected. I'm one of 60 people that got their names called today and I'm very blessed for that opportunity. It will be a cool experience to be up in Portland and I'm happy with the way everything turned out."
"I was sitting with Jeff's agent a good part of the night and we had a list on ‘Ok, if this guy goes here, then Jeff might go there,' and it just didn't fall quite right with Jeff. The agent even said that," Self continued. "He said that if he didn't go at No. 27 then he would fall to No. 35 at least. Then he ended up going 39th. But if I'm not mistaken, Tyshawn (Taylor) went 41st last year and he still made the team."
Withey is still a 7-footer who moves well but he will once again hear how he needs to get stronger and put some weight on - an area that Withey has always struggled with. But after watching the way Jeff has improved in so many areas each year, there's no reason to believe his development won't continue on the NBA level.
"I wish they both would've gone higher," Self said referring to McLemore and Withey. "I was hoping Ben (McLemore) would've gone in the top four and was hoping Jeff (Withey) would make it in the first round, but those things can happen. I actually like the teams they went to. I think they're both great opportunities for both of those guys. I've talked to both of them a lot and I know that Jeff is excited. He said he's more motivated now than ever and Ben, I was with him and his family. They were just soaking in the moment and were so proud. It was a good night for Kansas.
"It wasn't quite as good because Travis (Releford) didn't get drafted, and those two didn't go as high as we'd hoped, but it was still a pretty special night."