The 6-foot-5 phenom, formerly of Wellston (MO) Eskridge High School, had yet to play his junior season of high school basketball – which means he had yet to make the transition from undersized power forward to physically-ideal shooting guard.
As has been well documented, that position shift has made all the
difference. It allowed Ben McLemore to flourish, to put his freakish
athleticism and high skill level on full display. College coaches and
talent scouts alike began to sit up and take notice, and the future
unfolded before him with a world of heretofore unforeseen possibilities.
Joining the famed St. Louis Eagles AAU squad prior to the summer proved
to be the final piece of the puzzle. Now, far from being overlooked,
McLemore is impossible to miss.
"I got more exposure when I came out with the Eagles," McLemore said.
"A lot of people didn't know who I was. So I started playing my style
of game, and people started asking 'Who's that kid? Who's that Ben
But the way he sees it, his mission is far from complete.
"I feel like I should be up there with the top 10 (prospects)," he
added. "I've gotta keep working hard every day to get up there."
Last weekend, McLemore joined 99 of the most talented high school
basketball prospects in the country in Charlottesville, Va., on the
campus of the University of Virginia, for the National Basketball
Player's Association Top 100 camp.
The annual camp is set up to improve the gathered talent in both body
and mind. During the course of the four-day event, attendees push their
basketball abilities to the limit during drill work with former and
current NBA stars and intense team competitions.
Perhaps more important to their long-term development however, is the
time spent off the court. Those same NBA athletes go to considerable
lengths to school their youthful proteges on the fiscal and
emotional maturity required to be successful in The League.
In all aspects, McLemore found the experience invaluable.
"I took a lot of their advice, former NBA players and retired NBA
players," he explained. "Information about life. You've gotta be humble
and hard working."
It's been a time of change for McLemore in matters outside of
basketball as well. When Eskridge High School closed its doors at the
conclusion of the 2009-2010 academic year, it was for the last time –
leaving him without a scholastic home for his senior year.
McLemore is the first to admit he has work to do in the classroom to
get himself eligible for college by the end of next year. So when
legendary Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. came calling, it
sounded to him like the perfect fit.
But not because of the school's reputation for fielding elite
basketball talent. No, McLemore was more concerned with their ability
to help him get his grades in order – a task at which he is already
hard at work through summer classes.
"I talked to (Head Coach Steve) Smith, he said they have good academics
and they've got college preparation classes for me," he said. "I was
thinking 'This should help me.' I wasn't worrying about basketball at
the time, I just needed to get my grades (right)."
There was one problem, however. McLemore's mother wasn't convinced. She
felt going to such a high profile school, so far from their home in St.
Louis, would prove too much for her son to handle. Additionally, it
would be difficult for her to see him play, outside of the rare
occasions on which Oak Hill games are broadcast on national television.
But Ben felt it was a window he couldn't let close, and began working
to show his mom why attending the school would be such a big step in
the right direction for his future.
Things culminated recently with a heart-to-heart conversation between
mother and son.
At the end of almost two hours of discussion, he said, his mom asked
him a simple question.
"Is it too late for you to go?"
Ben answered in the negative.
"She was like, 'You'd better pack your stuff, you're going to Oak
Hill," he recalled, a smile evident in his voice. "All I did was start
smiling and say 'I love you, and thank you so much.'"
With his future path now seemingly settled, the present continues to
demand McLemore's attention. Next up for him? A trip to Chicago this
weekend, where he'll be among 15 of the top wing prospects in the
country at the Paul Pierce Skills Academy.
It may seem like an exhausting schedule, even for the seemingly
limitless energy of youth. But McLemore knows the road to the top is
one not easily traveled.
"Every day I work harder and harder," he said. "I always said I wanted
to get there with the rest of the Top 10, and the Top 100 (prospects).
And I made it, but I still have a long ways to go though."
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