The wait lasted nearly 50 minutes. Ben McLemore sat quietly at a table inside the green room at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. The night had dragged on, the wait had continued, and the names kept coming off the board.
For weeks, McLemore, a freshman guard from Kansas, had expected to go in the top five of the NBA Draft. But here he was, waiting, waiting, waiting.
Finally, just before 7:20 p.m. Central time Thursday night, McLemore heard his name called by NBA commissioner David Stern. The Sacramento Kings had selected McLemore with the seventh overall pick in the NBA Draft.
“Thank God for supporting me,” McLemore said, “and being there for me all the way.”
A few minutes later, McLemore mentioned his older brother, Keith Scott, who is serving a prison sentence at Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Mo. They had grown up together, surviving the poverty and crime-ridden streets of Wellston, Mo. And McLemore couldn’t go another second without mentioning his brother.
“I love him; I wish he could be here,” McLemore said. “But he’s here in spirit.”
In the weeks leading up to the draft, McLemore’s draft stock had reportedly begun to slip, the result of some subpar workouts and an unclear relationship with Rodney Blackstock, the man who allegedly gave money to McLemore’s former AAU coach during the KU basketball season.
McLemore would eventually sign with Blackstock, who recently became a certified agent. And on Thursday night, Blackstock joined McLemore in New York.
It could have been awkward, of course.
Kansas coach Bill Self was also in the green room at the Barclays Center, traveling to New York to provide a measure of support for his former freshman star.
It was the second consecutive year that Kansas had a player taken in the first round by Sacramento. Former KU All-American Thomas Robinson was drafted fifth overall in last year’s draft (although Robinson was part of a trade during the season that sent him to Houston and brought another former Jayhawk, Cole Aldrich, to Sacramento).
According to Sacramento owner Vivek Ranadive, the Kings had coveted McLemore.
“He was our No. 1 choice,” Ranadive told fans at Sleep Train Arena, according to the Sacramento Bee. “And we were frantically in the war room trying to trade up to the No. 2, 3, 4 slot. We were willing to pay a lot of money to get Ben, and we got him at seven.”
The night completed a fairly meteoric rise for McLemore, who arrived at Kansas in 2011 as an athletic shooting guard. He sat out his first season at Kansas, taking a redshirt season after being deemed a partial qualifier by the NCAA. During his redshirt season, as Kansas advanced to the NCAA title game, Self often said that McLemore was the Jayhawks’ most naturally gifted player.
After a year of waiting, McLemore finally had a chance to prove it last season, averaging 15.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game during his redshirt freshman season. McLemore had the ability to make it look easy — so easy, in fact, that it was often wondered whether he had the mind-set to be a dominant player. The same concerns persisted as McLemore went through the predraft process.
Now McLemore gets his opportunity to prove himself, even if it took a little longer than expected.
The night began with an early stunner at No. 1, when the Cleveland Cavaliers opted for UNLV freshman forward Anthony Bennett. The Orlando Magic followed by taking Indiana guard Victor Oladipo with the second pick. And that allowed the Washington Wizards to stay close to home and select Georgetown swingman Otto Porter Jr. at No. 3.
The surprises continued at No. 4, when the Charlotte Bobcats selected Indiana forward Cody Zeller. For McLemore and Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel, who were both considered candidates for the No. 1 overall pick, the freefall was stunning. And it continued as the Phoenix Suns took Maryland center Alex Len with the No. 5 pick.
Noel finally went No. 6 to New Orleans, and that set the stage for McLemore, who will now join a franchise that is likely to stay in Sacramento after flirting with a move to Seattle. Robinson is long gone now, dealt to Houston in a midseason trade during his rookie season. But McLemore will join a young squad that features former Memphis guard Tyreke Evans, who averaged 15.2 points per game last season, and former Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas.
For now, McLemore should have an opportunity to become an immediate threat on the wing while also playing alongside center DeMarcus Cousins.
“I want to come in and show everybody what I can do,” McLemore told reporters at the draft in New York. “Because I know on the court I know what I can do. I can be an alpha dog and take over games and help my teams win games.”
Finally, after a long wait, he had heard his name. As the night wore on, McLemore showed off his custom suit, with two Kansas jerseys sewn on the inside of his jacket. He moved backstage, posing for photos and delivering a special message to Kings fans via the social-media app Vine. Maybe he expected to go sooner. But this was his dream, and McLemore wanted to soak it all in.
“This is a great opportunity for me,” McLemore said. “I’m blessed to be here.”