It was all set up perfectly for Ben McLemore.
The final practice before Kansas left for its European exhibition tour. A rare open practice at that, with a decent number of media members on hand to watch. And here was McLemore, completing a nice offensive flurry in the first quarter of a scrimmage Saturday afternoon.
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And then, a little tweak in his left hamstring.
McLemore said he’d be fine by Tuesday, when KU opens it European trip against the Swiss National Team in Fribourg, Switzerland. And for many reasons, McLemore will probably want to cross his fingers.
After sitting out last season as a partial qualifier, McLemore has been on campus for more than a year, waiting to make his debut for the Jayhawks. The European trip won’t be his official debut, of course, but at least it will be a game. With real officials. Against a real opponent.
“It’s gonna be my first time playing again,” McLemore said. “I had to sit out last year. But I’m happy.”
For most of the offseason, Self has talked up McLemore’s raw ability. At 6 feet 5, and with a nice touch from outside, McLemore has drawn comparisons to former Jayhawk Brandon Rush. (This comparison, it appears, also seems to be apt in the ball-handling department.)
“Right now,” Self said. “He’s more of a shooter and just an athlete rather than really knowing how to plug himself in and use his athleticism.”
When November rolls around, and the real season begins, McLemore will have an opportunity to prove Self correct. But for now, he can start against the Swiss in Fribourg.
“It’s a motivator,” McLemore said.
It’s only August, but Kansas’ guard rotation — at least after Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and McLemore — figures to be one of the most interesting subplots of the early season. Of most importance: Who will serve as the primary ballhandler when Johnson is out of the game?
Sophomore Naadir Tharpe, who played sparingly last season, will have a chance to battle for those minutes, and Tharpe appeared more assertive in his role during Saturday’s open scrimmage.
But judging by his post-practice comments, Self is either not quite satisfied with Tharpe’s play over the last few weeks — or trying to push Tharpe even more on the practice floor.
“You saw him on his best day,” Self said. “So, Naadir has been hot and cold, to say the least. But today he was much better. He’s had a problem passing the ball all over the place.
“It’d be nice if he could kind of settle in as the backup point guard, but I don’t really know. I don’t know yet. Because he hasn’t been very consistent.”
Let’s start at the end, with perhaps the biggest highlight of Saturday. It actually wasn’t indicative at all of how either player played — so take it with a few grains of salt — but junior Justin Wesley absolutely hammered on freshman Zach Peters in the final seconds of the scrimmage. (It was worthy of a poster.)
Here are some other observations from Saturday’s open practice:
... Most of the newcomers spent time rotating in with the “Blue” team, which included seniors Jeff Withey, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson. But freshman guard Andrew White played substantial minutes with the group. Some of that may have been due to McLemore’s injury, but White’s defense, at least on a couple possessions, stood out.
… Self stopped practice at one point to go over a teaching point he says he learned from Jeff Van Gundy. The point? When you’re taking the ball out, call the in-bounds play before you step out of bounds so the official doesn’t hand you the ball while your team is still getting organized. Well, sounds simple enough.
… On one possession, freshman guard Anrio Adams picked the ball from Johnson in the backcourt and dived on the floor to finish off the steal. That drew some praise from the sideline from Self. It’s also worth noting this: Self got on Adams later in practice for not being ready to switch to the “Blue” team and practice a set-play. All things considered, though, Adams looks the part of a Kansas guard. He's long and fairly built for a player who was in high school just three months ago.
… Senior forward Kevin Young spent the scrimmage doing the stuff that you’ve become accustomed to seeing Kevin Young do. He won 50-50 balls, brought some energy, and made shots — jump hooks and leaners in the lane — that made you say: Yep, that’s a Kevin Young move.
… On the other hand, Young was blocked twice at the end of a quarter by Jeff Withey. And Young was about 15 feet away from the basket. This perhaps says more about Withey, who looked like the most comfortable player on the floor for most of the scrimmage.
Self and the Olympics
You probably know about former KU center Sasha Kaun, who is making his Olympics debut for his native Russia in London. But Self also reminded reporters that he has three former players competing in the Olympics. Former Illinois center Robert Archibald is playing for Great Britain, while former Illini guard Deron Williams is playing an important role for the United States.
Self also joked that he’d missed Kaun’s latest game, a Russian victory over Spain, which began early Saturday morning, well before his alarm clock went off.
“I like Sasha,” Self joked. “But not that much.”