From now until they make their much-anticipated debuts in Allen Fieldhouse, the prowess of ineligible Kansas University freshmen basketball players Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor will remain shrouded in mystery.
McLemore, a 6-foot-5, 185-pound guard from St. Louis, and Traylor, a 6-8, 220-pound forward from Chicago — who practiced second semester but could not play in games in accordance with NCAA eligibility rules — recently were willing to discuss what 16,300 fans can expect at the Oct. 12 Late Night in the Phog.
Of his best buddy McLemore, Traylor said: “The best play Ben had at practice this season was on a fast break. Naadir (Tharpe, frosh guard) had the ball at halfcourt. He threw an alley-oop and Ben jumped the highest I’ve ever seen anybody jump in my life and he dunked it. I think practice ended off that.”
McLemore remembers the Jordanesque-moment well.
“I told Naadir to throw it up. I jumped pretty high to get it with two hands,” McLemore said with a smile. “I’ve got a good vertical and stuff like that.”
His leaping ability was showcased on one other highlight-reel practice play.
“One time I stole the ball from Jeff Withey and had a break by myself in the open court. I jumped pretty high and dunked it,” McLemore said.
He was eager to point out Traylor’s top play on the scout team at practice the past four months.
“Jamari did a double-clutch dunk through the lane through everybody. He double-clutched and dunked over a 7-footer,” McLemore said, ostensibly referring to the team’s only 7-footer, Withey.
Traylor, who worked with and against KU’s big men daily, said his own personal highlight was “probably a defensive play. I probably got a couple blocks in a row, (but) I can’t think of anything off the top of my head now.”
It’s unlikely the consecutive blocks came against 6-10, 237-pound All-American Robinson, who taught Traylor a thing or two this season.
“Thomas didn’t guard me as much as I had to guard him. I made sure I guarded him,” said Traylor, who was determined to learn from the best. “It’s real intense going against him. Sometimes he gets real mad with me. He tries to push me around all the time. I’ve got to show him I’m not a chump, you know?”
McLemore and Traylor made sure to bring their A-games to practice every day.
There was no reason to hold back, considering they wouldn’t be allowed to play in games until preseason 2012-13.
“If there was a time I cried, it was probably the day I found out I was ineligible (in October). Other than that, I don’t think I got that frustrated in practice,” said Traylor, Rivals.com’s No. 141-ranked player in the recruiting Class of 2011. He played his senior year at IMG Academies in Florida. “It’s going to benefit me in the long run because I got a year of practice under my belt. I already know all the plays, and I’ve been practicing against one of the best players in college who is going to be a great NBA player. That practice is going to prepare me for anything next year.”
Noted McLemore, a former Oak Hill Academy/Houston Christian Life Center standout who entered KU as the No. 17-rated player in the country: “When I first got here, I was sluggish and tired trying to guard Tyshawn (Taylor). He’s a fast point guard. I think my defense has picked up. It is getting better.
“I think next year will be a shock, going from not playing at all and coming out and playing a lot of minutes,” McLemore added. “It’s going to be weird because I’m going to be a freshman again playing a lot of minutes. I can’t wait.”
Traylor said a highlight was soaking up information from assistant coach Danny Manning, who is now headed to Tulsa as the Hurricane head coach. Manning worked with KU’s big men.
“I’m not going to forget it. You can’t forget that kind of stuff,” Traylor said of pointers from the 15-year NBA veteran. “I learned so much it will stick with me forever. I learned a lot of the little things as far as footwork, positioning, timing. It’s a lot more complex than I thought it was when you’re just running around in AAU. There’s a lot more thinking involved at this level.”
The two definitely felt part of the team, even though they were not allowed (by the NCAA) to sit on the bench during NCAA Tournament games. Both players sat in seats in the crowd, though close to court level.
“Sometimes guys come out of the huddle and point to me, and I feel I’m part of the team all the time,” Traylor said. “We get acknowledgment from the guys. It’s special to me.”
“It’s a close team,” McLemore noted. “We’re really like brothers.”
McLemore and Traylor, who both had over 3.0 grade point averages first semester and will be ready to go academically next season with four years of eligibility remaining.
Inseparable, they were not roommates.
Traylor rooms with Christian Garrett; McLemore with Niko Roberts.
“If you see me, you are going to see Ben,” Traylor said. “It’s like we are attached at the hip.”
“Niko is my roommate. I’ll stay with him,” McLemore said with a laugh, “but I’m always in Jamari’s room because we’re always together. The team is always together anyway. We’re that close.”
T-Rob, Taylor visit L.A. over weekend: KU senior Tyshawn Taylor and junior Thomas Robinson were spotted sitting behind the Houston Rockets bench Friday during the Rockets’ victory over the Los Angeles Lakers at L.A.’s Staples Center. Former KU teammate Marcus Morris of the Rockets did not play in the game. Morris posted a picture of the three together on Instagram. It’s not known whether Robinson and/or Taylor met with any prospective agents during the trip to L.A., as the Morris twins did during a similar trip last spring. Taylor and Robinson are scheduled to be back for Monday’s basketball banquet (6:30 p.m., Holidome). Robinson, who has yet to officially announce his intentions to enter the NBA Draft, could use the banquet as a forum to announce his plans to turn pro. He’s currently listed as the No. 4 pick overall by draftexpress.com and long been considered a lock to leave KU after three seasons. The first day of the spring National Letter of Intent signing period is April 11 (Wednesday), meaning any non-senior that makes himself eligible for the NBA Draft before then must remove his name by Tuesday night in order to retain collegiate eligibility by the NCAA. In an intriguing spinoff, the NBA does not recognize this new NCAA-mandated college deadline. In the NBA’s eyes, players have until April 29 to enter their names into the draft.
This, that: Future KU player Andrew White, a 6-6, 210-pound senior small forward from Miller School in Chester, Va., scored 14 points off 6-of-13 shooting in the Black Team’s 130-127 loss to the White squad at Friday’s Derby Festival Classic all-star game in Louisville. White had six assists and two steals. North Carolina State signee T.J. Warren, a 6-7 forward, had 27 points and St. John’s signee JaKarr Sampson 18 in the victory. ... William G. Parrott, Jr., a major contributor to KU athletics (Parrott Athletic Center) has died at the age of 79 in Stuart, Fla. Born in Pittsburg, he resided in Stuart since 1977. Parrott lived in Lawrence for a number of years. His obituary can be found here ... KU strength coach Andrea Hudy is featured in the book “Coaching Wisdom: Championship coaches and their Players Share Successful Leadership Principles” by Mike Harrity, associate athletic director at the University of Notre Dame. The J-W’s Tom Keegan recently wrote a profile of Hudy, available here.