Ailene Voisin, sports columnist
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    Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive joins first-round draft pick Ben McLemore, middle, and second-round choice Ray McCallum at a news conference Monday.


    Ben McLemore meets with reporters after his introductory news conference with the Kings at Sleep Train Arena.

Ailene Voisin: McLemore takes rough road to NBA

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 2, 2013 - 9:07 am

Ben McLemore has gone days without eating, shared a tiny house with a dozen relatives, bathed in cold water, lived without electricity, attended a high school that was dissolved because of academic failure and transferred twice before earning his diploma.

His mother is estranged from his father. His older brother is serving time in a maximum security prison in Missouri. He is only 20, yet already his life has been harsh almost beyond belief.

"The worst conditions you can imagine," his coach at Kansas, Bill Self, said when reached Monday.

It wasn't surprising, then, that McLemore smiled patiently, then shrugged, when asked during his introductory news conference Monday about the triple-digit temperatures in Sacramento. He likes the heat. He also sounded genuinely pleased about his new circumstances as the Kings' first-round draft pick and seemed eager to establish himself for a renovated franchise still scribbling on the blueprint.

This Kings rebuilding may or may not include restricted free agent Tyreke Evans, the incumbent shooting guard who has attracted at least one offer that could cause the Kings to blink, prompting a possible sign-and-trade that would dramatically alter the starting lineup and the team dynamic.

But assuming McLemore maximizes his talent – and regardless of Evans' status – the rookie steps in as the shooting guard. Appropriately, if only coincidentally, No. 16 will make a comeback. The deep three-pointers. The pullups in transition. The jumpers from the corners and the elbows.

True, there is only one Peja Stojakovic. But McLemore would be a formidable foe in a friendly game of H-O-R-S-E.

"I don't think Ben's a good shooter; I think he's a great shooter," Self said. "He has great quickness, great balance, great explosiveness. Right now, he's got to tighten his handles and certainly become a better passer so he can make plays for others. But this really worked out great for the Kings. I've never coached a player with a ceiling as high as his."

The 6-foot-5 McLemore, who shared the podium with second-round pick Ray McCallum, isn't short on charisma, either. He oozes the stuff. His dark eyes are warm and inviting. When he smiles, which is often, he lightens a room. His boyish features make him appear even younger than his age, and his distinct hairstyle, the tight curls tapered on the sides, has its own name; it's known as "The McLemore" among his friends and former Jayhawks teammates.

But this is why Self remains an involved, impassioned supporter: McLemore went away, but came back. And he keeps coming back.

When his high school in St. Louis was shut down during his junior year, he transfered to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. When he was dismissed for an honor code violation, he earned his diploma at Christian Life School in Texas. When his grades disqualified him from playing during his freshman year at Kansas, he concentrated on his studies, made the honor roll with a 3.0 grade point average and practiced like a fiend. When others in his life urged him to leave school immediately after his exceptional first season, he took off for a while but returned and completed his coursework.

"I was really proud of him," said Self, who has known McLemore since his early teens. "He's not a good person; he's a terrific person."

More recently, when his status as a top-five prospect was jeopardized by his disorderly approach to the draft, he switched agents, to Rodney Blackstock, and hired attorney Rudy Freeman to organize his final workouts. And he intends to return to Kansas again – to complete his degree.

"I'm definitely going back and finishing my degree," McLemore said. "Taking a step back and not playing during my first year changed a lot. I think it changed a lot in other people's eyes, and it changed my life, too, in terms of maturity. I'm ready to start the journey."

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

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Read more articles by Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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