Ultra-athletic St. Louis high school basketball guard Ben McLemore will leave for Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va., a week from today as one of the top uncommitted players in the Class of 2011.
Though the 6-foot-5, 185-pound McLemore appears to remain a heavy Kansas University lean — with no other school even close to be considered his second choice at this time — he may remain unsigned all the way until April.
“The thing is, everything is relatively new for him. The process is he doesn’t want to rush into anything,” said Jeff McCaw, McLemore’s coach last season at St. Louis Eskridge High — a school that had its doors slammed shut by the state last spring.
“He is not playing games. He is just one of those kids that wants to be certain about being certain. All of a sudden there are people tugging on him. There’s still a lot to be decided about what kids are signing where.
“He’s about to leave for Oak Hill. He wants to concentrate on winning a national (prep) championship right now.”
That said, McLemore — who is planning on attending the Oct. 15 Late Night in the Phog on an official visit — could always change his mind and commit to KU after the season-opening hoops event and sign with the Jayhawks in November.
“He has always dreamed of playing at KU,” McCaw said of McLemore, Rivals.com’s No. 21-ranked player who averaged 28.3 points and 12.5 boards at Eskridge High his junior season. “I don’t think he sees another program. He’s not even really considering any other program. I talked to him 30 minutes ago. He said he’s not even thought about it (any other school),” McCaw added of McLemore, who also has Missouri, Tennessee, Ohio State, Marquette and Purdue on his current list of schools.
“After he takes the visit to Kansas, he might decide, ‘This is where I’m going. I want to commit.’
“I told him I’ve been to Kansas (Late Night) when Roy Williams was there with Adonis Jordan and Rex Walters. I told him there’s no other experience like Allen Fieldhouse when you hear them chanting, ‘Rock Chalk Jayhawk, KU.’ When you get there, see it and know you know you’ll be running out there in Blue and White, it can be a different story. I was always a Kentucky guy, but when I went there I thought, ‘I want to play at Kansas.’’’
McCaw is not the kind of coach who is trying to steer a former prized pupil to any college program. As proof of that ... upon the closing of Eskridge High, he didn’t attempt to get McLemore to follow him to his new program at North County Tech.
“I am one of those coaches who feel my success will come through the kid when he moves forward instead of me. I want what is best for him,” McCaw said.
“What happened is when our school closed it got very chaotic here. He was pulled in all different directions, people saying he would transfer to any one of the surrounding schools. The only place he was eligible to go play was Normandy (which inherits the students from Eskridge). Things are also chaotic there.
“So we kind of weighed the options. I was getting calls from Hargrave (Military Academy) and a number of prep schools. My idea of prep school is like Oak Hill or Findlay Prep (in Nevada). Coach Smith (Steve, Oak Hill) called and they talked. Ben got through registration and is on the roster.”
Oak Hill plays more than 40 games a season, with many televised on one of the ESPN networks.
Asked what to tell KU fans, who hope they’ll be watching a future Jayhawk on the ESPN telecasts this season, McCaw said simply: “Since he was 13 or 14 he imagined himself playing at KU. When we talked (Thursday) I said, ‘I know you want to go to KU. KU is at the top of your list. You still need to evaluate other programs to make sure you are making the right choice.’ My personal opinion, if you ask me, that is KU will probably always be No. 1. Like I told coach (Kurtis) Townsend, that’s where he wants to be. Only time will tell.”
As far as McLemore’s take, Ben recently told the Journal-World: “I have not made my decision yet. Me and my mom are going to sit down and talk about it, take it all in. Kansas is one of the schools I love the most.”