Ben McLemore’s story transcends the game of basketball.
From the gritty asphalt of his hometown of Wellston Missouri, to the venerable Phog Allen Fieldhouse at the University of Kansas, to the luster of NBA arenas after being the seventh overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft -- McLemore remains deeply rooted to family, faith and the realization of his dream to take care of those closest to him.
“The lifestyle I grew up on, just keeping a level head, having my family keeping that level head,” McLemore said after a recent shoot around at the Kings practice facility. “Telling me to stay humble and hungry and at the same time just go out there and just give it my all and dedicate myself to become who I want to become.
“I wanted to become an NBA player and I worked really hard to do it. I’m in a position right now to get better each and every day ‘cause I got family to feed.
“I got sisters and brothers and nieces and nephews and my mom to take care of. As a young kid, something I’ve always wanted to do, dreamed to do is take care of my family.”
At just 22 years old and with many adjustments to the NBA on and off the floor, McLemore hasn’t hesitated, attacking philanthropy with the same diligence as his game.
His efforts have not gone unnoticed, as McLemore was the recipient of the NBA’s Community Assist Award for December.
Even with demands of adjusting to the NBA, the Kings' second year guard out of Kansas relishes the opportunity to give back to his hometown of Wellston.
“Especially where I grew up and where all my friends and family grew up . . . and where I went to school.”
“They have been a big support for me. I just wanted to give back. Give back to the community and give back to where I came from and where I grew up.
McLemore remains committed for the long term.
“It’s something that I take pride in. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to accept the award. It’s a community assist award. It’s not something I do for just that month. It’s something I’m going to continue to do throughout my whole career and my whole life.”
The source of the dedication is the selfless nature is McLemore’s mom, Sonya or as those close to her know her as, “Miss Peaches.”
“That’s one thing my mom has always told us -- to stick together,” McLemore acknowledges.
When McLemore was 15, the streets of Wellston caught up with his brother, Keith Scott, who remains in jail in Missouri. But as always, “Miss Peaches’ “ mantra of ‘stick together’ rings true.
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“Me and my brother was just on the phone yesterday, actually last night catching up,” McLemore said.
“He wishes he could be out here supporting me right now but in due time. He’ll be home sooner than later. . . He’s excited me for to get better, getting to that next level.”
Scott keeps up with his little brother and the Kings.
“He watches my games,” McLemore said. “He watches all my games. He’s another big supporter in my family lifestyle. A big role in me becoming who I want to become - a great talented player with an up and coming future.
“I just want to keep working and keep dedicating myself just going out there and getting better each and every day and becoming one of the great players out here to play the game.”
After his rookie season on his own, McLemore now has an elder sister and her children living with him in Sacramento.
“That’s probably the best thing that can happen, you know, for me too especially –- being young, having an elder in my family to come stay with me. It’s just very important and also it’s good at the same time to have that older sister play that role that she always been playing in my life.”
“It’s always good just having a family members always there supporting you at your games ‘cause last year it wasn’t like that and it’s hard to get family to come support you because they’re so far away.
“My mom said it was a great opportunity and a great thing she did coming out here staying with me.”
The mere mention of his sister and the kids and McLemore beams.
“Yeah, I’m very popular,” McLemore smiles wide when asked about being an uncle. “I love kids, hangin with kids. I’m really good with kids. That’s why my nieces and nephews, they love me a lot . . . And they are also a great support system and my family too.
“They support me a lot. They always call me ‘Hey uncle Ben, how you doing?’, ‘How did your game go?’
So as the current Kings road trip careens through eight cities, McLemore has a keen appreciation of home.
“Having my sister out here, it’s going to get even better,” McLemore reflected.
“I’m just very happy to have my sister out here and know they will be out here and support me throughout the rest of my career.”
Photos courtesy Ben McLemore