Hoffman Estates, Ill. Sitting in a dark meeting room in the basement of Sears Centre, with his mom, Sonya, to his left and AAU coach, Darius Cobb, to his right, Ben McLemore finally put an end to his college recruitment late Sunday afternoon in this Chicago suburb.
“Rock Chalk Jayhawk,” McLemore exclaimed in choosing Kansas University over rival Missouri.
McLemore, a 6-foot-5 senior guard from St. Louis, announced his choice after scoring 14 points — two off a vicious dunk in overtime — in the Black Team’s 109-100 victory over the White squad in the NeXt All-America Classic.
McLemore entered the interview room with his cousin, Richard Boyd, and girlfriend, Tricia, who added some levity to the situation.
Richard wore a Mizzou T-shirt (he stressed later he’s a KU fan, but needed to wear MU’s colors to pull off the joke) and Tricia a KU top.
The two applauded as McLemore announced his choice of the Jayhawks.
“I had a good high school senior year (first at Oak Hill Academy, where he was dismissed for violating undisclosed team rules, then at Houston’s Christian Life Center). I feel I played hard all year,” McLemore said in beginning the news conference.
“I narrowed it down to Kansas and Missouri. I sat down and talked to my mom last night. It was a tough decision, but next year I’ll be at Kansas University.”
McLemore visited KU for the 2010 Late Night in the Phog and later made a trip to Columbia, Mo.
It was the KU trip that first started to soften his mom, a Mizzou fan who goes by the nickname “Peaches.”
“It was great. The love was there. The excitement was there. I felt it is where he needed to be,” Sonya said of KU. “The crowd was nice. The people were nice. It felt comfortable.”
Still, she admitted there were some “friendly fights” in the family in the months leading up to the decision, which became easy when MU coach Mike Anderson recently took the Arkansas job.
“It was tough. Really tough,” mom said of the discussions with her son. “He came to me and said, ‘KU is where I want to go.’ As a mother, I support him.”
Truth be known, Ben this past year needed to be sold on KU as well. He said KU’s coaches did a good job telling him how he’d fit into the system. He’s been around the program, having attended KU’s Elite camp the past four summers.
“Really, people don’t know this, but I grew up loving Mizzou,” Ben said. “My mom is a big fan of Mizzou. When Kansas came to the table, I knew they were a good program, but the decision was still back and forth. We decided it was the best place for me.”
Ben’s little brother, Kevin, a 16-year-old sophomore at St. Louis’ Normandy High, confirmed it was tough watching his brother wrestle over the decision between KU and his mom’s love, Mizzou.
“Talking with him it was just big emotion all the time,” Kevin said. “I was rooting for both schools. My mom always watches Mizzou when they play on TV. The way it worked out, I feel great. He played great today and then picked a great school. It was a good choice and a great day for my brother.”
McLemore’s cousin, Richard, said during all-star game festivities, “We were kept in suspense all weekend. In my opinion, what made up his mind was when Missouri’s coach left for Arkansas. Ben asked him if he was staying, and he (Anderson) told him yes. That all made it easier on him.
“Let everybody know I’m a Kansas fan,” Richard added. “I took the Missouri shirt off right away (at news conference).”
AAU coach Cobb believes McLemore will be able to fit in at KU right away.
“Look up in the dictionary ‘team player’ and it’s Ben,” Cobb said. “He could score 30, 40 (he averaged 16 points and seven boards at his Houston high school), but I’ve seen him defer to get other people shots.
“The kid is so humble. If you tell him to be the man, he’ll be the man. If you tell him you want him to red-shirt, he’ll red-shirt. The way I describe him is, Ben is a role player. If you need him to get 30, he’ll get 30. If you need shut-down defense, he defends. He is one of the most athletic kids in the country.”
McLemore was asked about his upcoming role at KU.
“You do not go in college thinking you are going to get a spot,” said Rivals.com’s No. 17-rated player nationally. “You go in and work every day. I will be in the gym 24-7 until I get there. When I get there, I will go hard or go home.”
Coach Cobb said he’ll definitely play hard and do what’s asked of him.
“If you show me a person who doesn’t like Ben, I will show you a person who has a problem,” Cobb said, adding that he believes McLemore will have no problem qualifying for a scholarship.
KU fans’ first glimpse of McLemore will be at Late Night.
The huge family contingent — including his mom, three sisters and brother — that attended Sunday’s all-star game and news conference will be on hand.
“I want to see Late Night,” coach Cobb said, “because Ben is a pretty good dancer, too.”
Mom may have to wear two T-shirts during that trip to Lawrence, one before and after Late Night and one during.
“I will always be a Mizzou fan,” Sonya said. “But this is something he wanted. I’m proud of him and happy for him.”
Just 300 fans attended the all-star game in 9,700-seat Sears Centre. ... Jamari Traylor, a 6-7 forward from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., scored 11 points with five rebounds for the winning team. He has a list of KU, St. John’s, Mississippi State and Indiana. He said he’ll visit KU in coming weeks. ... The game was not televised on CBS Sports Network as planned. Officials said before the game the sponsors didn’t provide the money for the network show. Nobody was informed of the change in plans until right before tipoff. ... McLemore will sign in the April signing period. KU has also signed point guard Naadir Tharpe and has at least two additional scholarships to give, more if non-seniors head to the NBA Draft. ... Tharpe reported on his Twitter account Sunday that he scored 10 points and had eight assists in the East’s 106-103 loss to the West in Saturday’s All-America high school all star game in Houston.