Seven is Vivek Ranadivé’s lucky number. Coincidentally, it’s also the number that Ben McLemore was chosen in this year’s draft. Yesterday, McLemore and new fellow teammate Ray McCallum were formally introduced as the newest members of the Sacramento Kings. Here are seven short stories to come out of Monday’s introductory press conference.
Kings’ new braintrust make their first major decision
When the New Orleans Pelicans selected Nerlens Noel with the sixth overall pick, the Kings’ war room erupted into applause and celebratory triumph. It was at that moment that they knew they had their man.
By picking McLemore, Ranadivé, Pete D’Alessandro and Michael Malone made their first major decision as the new braintrust of the Sacramento Kings. After playing supporting roles in their previous stops, each took the lead for the first time on Thursday. Knowing that the first major step in rebooting the franchise had been taken, drafting McLemore was a special moment for all of them.
“The excitement’s still there,” D’Alessandro said yesterday. “I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Heading into the draft, most mocks pegged McLemore as a top three pick. Ranadivé didn’t think the 20-year-old guard would be available when the Kings made their selection at seven, so much so that they inquired about moving up in the draft. It may have been a leap of faith, but D’Alessandro reassured his boss that somehow McLemore would fall right into their laps.
“This man knows what he’s doing though,” Ranadivé said of D’Alessandro. “He told me that this was the two guys he wanted and I just didn’t think there was a chance that we’d get either of them. He said he had a hunch we would, and we did.”
Not a bad way to tip-off the new regime.
“It is a beginning of a new era,” Ranadivé added. “It is special. It’s very special for us that our first two picks we get these amazing two young men.”
Ranadivé praises McLemore’s will to overcome the odds
In a way, Ranadivé probably sees some of himself in the Kings’ top draft pick. The Kings new owner came to America with just $50 in his pocket, chasing the dream of higher education after immigrating from India. McLemore grew up in a life of poverty, each day not knowing where his next meal would come from in the small town of Wellington, Mo.
Before his dreams became a reality Thursday, McLemore’s path to the NBA started in a tiny, but packed household of seven. His mother raised him and his six siblings on her own. Instead of succumbing to the streets after his high school lost accreditation and shut down, he continued to focus on basketball as a means of keeping his life on track.
Yesterday, Ranadivé couldn’t help but gush about the Kings’ top draft pick’s will to overcome the odds.
“Ben’s story is the stuff of legends,” Ranadivé said. “This is the story of the triumph of hard work over adversity. Success against all odds. This is the stuff that movies are made of.”
McLemore’s unlikely journey to the NBA is also much like Sacramento’s surprising triumph in the fight to keep the Kings. Not many outside California’s capital city gave the incumbent much of a chance after a $525-million deal was struck between the Maloofs and a group of Seattle-based investors.
“You can’t help but love a story like that,” Ranadivé said of McLemore. “This is the ultimate David vs. Goliath story. And in many ways the Sacramento story was a David vs. Goliath story and we prevailed.”
McLemore on his relationship with Thomas Robinson
McLemore becomes the second player in as many years that the Kings have drafted out of the University of Kansas. With the fifth pick in the 2012 draft, Thomas Robinson was the first.
The two were teammates for one season at Kansas. However due to eligibility issues, McLemore didn’t play and redshirted as a freshman in Robinson’s final year in Lawrence. The two do stay in contact and McLemore says the former Kings power forward reached out to him after being drafted by Sacramento.
“He texted me during the draft,” McLemore said. “He just said the journey begins now. He’s excited for me. He’s happy for me. He just told me to go in and work, just work hard.”
Because of his struggles to acclimate to the NBA game, Robinson’s time with the Kings was brief. Before last year’s trade deadline, the Kings traded the 22-year-old forward to the Houston Rockets in a deal that netted them Patrick Patterson. Will McLemore be reaching out to his old college teammate to ask what to expect in Sacramento?
“I’ll probably end up doing that,” he said. “But I really ain’t ask him about it yet. I’m just enjoying this moment.”
McLemore, Peja Stojakovic and the No. 16
The 20-year-old guard raised some eyebrows when he revealed that he would be taking the No. 16 as his own. No player has worn that number since Peja Stojakovic last suited up for the Kings in 2006.
“I actually found out like yesterday (Sunday) he wore this number,” McLemore said. “Great shooter, great player, All-Star… I think all this is just a meaning, it’s a sign of greatness…hopefully (I can become) an All-Star and down the line (win) championships and (be) a great player down the road.”
The switch to 16 is new for McLemore, who says he’s worn the No. 23 all his life. However, the No. 16 does hold significance to the incoming rookie.
“I thought of choosing a number that could symbolize a part of me,” McLemore said. “I chose 16 since my mom and her six kids. It definitely has a meaning to it, so I’m going to rock this for the rest of my time with the Kings.”
McLemore says that 23, his previous number throughout his playing career, was chosen to honor his two brothers and three sisters.
How McLemore sees himself and Tyreke Evans co-existing
With the drafting of McLemore along with McCallum , is there still space for Evans on the Kings’ roster? This year’s seventh overall pick believes there is.
McLemore thinks he and Evans would form a pretty deadly tandem if paired together in the backcourt.
“I envision it (being) great, especially playing with Tyreke,” McLemore said after yesterday morning. “Two terrific athletes, players on the court.”
Evans has played multiple positions for the Kings throughout his young career. In his fourth NBA season, the 23-year-old swingman played heavy minutes at shooting guard last year after spending a chunk of his junior campaign at small forward. For parts of his rookie and sophomore years, he starred at point guard, which could once again be a possibility for him should he decide to re-sign with the Kings.
McCallum explains why he stayed close to home
The 22-year-old incoming rookie could’ve practically chose any college he wanted. Coming out of high school, McCallum was a McDonald’s All-American and ranked as one of his class’ top players.
However the Kings’ second-round draft pick opted to stay close to home and play for someone who knew his game best: his dad, Ray McCallum Sr.
“At the end of the day, it came down to trust and who had the best interest in me,” the younger McCallum said yesterday. “And I decided to stay home and play for my father.”
McCallum was recruited heavily by teams in major conferences, but waited until his senior year of high school to make visits and assess his situation. Before deciding to stay home and play for his father at the University of Detroit Mercy, McCallum says that he strongly considered UCLA and Arizona as his other top options.
His draft stock may have been much higher if he opted for the bright lights of Los Angeles or the desert heat of Tucson. However, the 22-year-old incoming rookie never questions his final decision.
“To play for him for 3 years, it’s the greatest opportunity I had,” McCallum said of playing for his dad. “I grew as a man, I grew as a player as well. But in high school I had to make a tough decision, whether to go off on my own and go to a big-time school or stay home and be loyal to my dad and get better. And like I said it, I don’t regret it, I’m here today. I’m honored, getting into the NBA. Can call myself a Sacramento King and who knows if that would have happened if I went somewhere else.”
Was McCallum aware of the Kings’ interest?
Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro has been enamored with McCallum’s talent for quite some time. He caught his first glimpse of the former Detroit Titans point guard while scouting for the Denver Nuggets last year. While watching the Titans take on his alma mater St. John’s, his mentor and hall of fame coach Lou Carnesecca spoke highly of McCallum, which caused D’Alessandro to take notice.
But after D’Alessandro left for Sacramento, did McCallum think the former Nuggets assistant GM would still have interest?
“Like Pete was saying, they followed me throughout the whole season and I think they had a good feel for me and my game,” McCallum said of D’Alessandro and new Kings assistant GM Mike Bratz. “Felt like when I met with them, I felt like we connected well. I thought they could see who I really was and understand my personality and my game.”
McCallum was not among the prospects the Kings brought in for a pre-draft workout last month. No word if that was just a matter of scheduling and timing that kept McCallum out of Sacramento, considering D’Alessandro was hired just 10 days before the draft.
“I thought I had a good chance of landing here and it happened,” McCallum said. “So I’m just excited that it came true and get to really start things soon.”