Welcome to the NBA, Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore in front of the Kings' shield following rookie press conference. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

Opening night in Sacramento is going to be an incredible event.  New owners, new management, new coaches and plenty of new season ticket holders will join the Arco faithful in a night of celebration.  There will be tears and smiles and plenty of purple as a new era of Sacramento Kings basketball is ushered into the capital city.

Coach Michael Malone will dress 13 players, many of whom are returning to a city they thought they were leaving behind.  Standing among those 13 are two NBA rookies, one of whom has never watched a live NBA regular season game in person.

Can you imagine your first NBA game being the first game of your NBA career?  That is the reality for Ben McLemore, the seventh overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft.  The St. Louis native grew up beyond poor.  Getting tickets to an NBA game wasn’t in the cards for this young man.

“I’ve never been to an NBA game,” McLemore told Cowbell Kingdom from his locker room stall last week.  “I’ve watched a lot of them on TV, but that’s the closest I’ve got.”

Sometime in the first or second quarter, the 20-year-old McLemore will make his NBA debut.  He will come off the Kings bench, walk to the scorer’s table, make sure his shirt is tucked in and step onto the floor.  Time may stand still for the former Kansas Jayhawk, as he’ll awake to a hero’s welcome by more than 17,000 cheering Kings fans.

“I’ve heard a lot about how the fans are,” McLemore said.  “They are a big support support system to the Kings and how they are crazy.  I know opening night is going to be a crazy, sellout crowd.  It’s going to be amazing.  I’m excited to be a part of that.”

McLemore saw plenty of big crowds in his time at Kansas, but nothing quite like what he’ll be in for on Wednesday.  The emotion in the building will be raw for everyone.  With three years of uncertainty behind them, the fans are ready to celebrate the most unlikely of nights.

The Kings first-round pick will be riding the emotional wave like everyone in attendance, but he has a lot of work to do to prove he belongs in the NBA.  After a rough start to his career in Las Vegas Summer League, McLemore is quickly finding his game.  He has battled with veterans Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette for the Kings’ starting shooting guard spot, and the strides he’s taken are nothing short of remarkable.  This is not the same player we saw lace it up in Vegas.

“I’m growing as a person and as a player each and every day,” the rookie told Cowbell Kingdom.

The growth is noticeable.  In 23.6 minutes of preseason action, McLemore averaged 11.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, while shooting 46.2 percent from the floor.  More importantly, he looked comfortable and ready every time he stepped on the court, especially next to point guard Isaiah Thomas.

McLemore won’t be getting the starting nod, but that is more a function of bringing him along slowly.  The Kings have depth at shooting guard, and there is no reason to rush a player with only one year of college basketball experience.

“I’m enjoying this process and enjoying this feeling,” McLemore said.  “Just being a part (of a) family in this new era is definitely a blessing and I’ve just been working each and every day to get better.”

McLemore has his sights set on the Rookie/Sophomore game at All-Star Weekend and has even made winning the Rookie of the Year award one of his goals.  He’s anxious to make himself into the next great NBA player.  There is no question that he has the talent and athleticism to accomplish these milestones, but let’s get that first game under his belt first.

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About: James Ham

James Ham is co-owner and senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".