By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com - @anthonyVslater
Two lottery picks. Two of the leading candidates for Big 12 Player of the year. Two rare talents. One building.
Marcus Smart against Ben McLemore on Saturday in Lawrence.
“Two of the best freshman in the country,” Travis Ford said. “That’s not even an argument. Two of the top five freshman in the country.”
Problem is, at least to start, we likely won’t see them guard each other.
McLemore is a silky smooth two-guard with an NBA-ready game, averaging 16.1 points and 5.4 rebounds for one of the deepest teams in the nation. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field, 45 percent from three and 87 percent from the line. Ridiculous efficiency from a mature freshman.
Smart is a combo guard forced to play the point for OSU. And he’s turned into the ideal floor general, with a rare basketball IQ and the ability to sense the perfect moment to score, rebound, create or take over with his bruising perimeter defense. His stat-line averages is staple of versatility: 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.8 steals, 0.8 blocks.
“I don’t think that’s the starting matchup,” Ford said. “I don’t think he’ll start on Marcus and I know Marcus isn’t going to start on him.”
C’mon, Travis. You’re not going to give us the showdown we all crave? The talented toe-to-toe dual that’ll have a batch of NBA scouts convening in the center of the country?
“I’m sure they’ll end up on each other eventually,” Ford admitted. “I’m sure they’ll get caught on each other at some point.”
That’s more like it.
“He’s a great player, definitely one of the best players in the country,” Smart said of McLemore. “I definitely think I’ll be on him at some point in the game. When I’m on him, that’s my focus. Limit his touches and limit what he can do…It’s gonna be a great game, two good players, two competitors at this level, it’s going to be a sight to see.”
Since we’re already well acquainted with Smart’s game, and have heard Travis Ford froth at the mouth with any mention of him (and why wouldn’t he?), here’s OSU’s enthusiastic coach talking about McLemore, another freshman who gets his basketball juices flowing.
“(He has a) pure, pure shot,” Ford said. “I love his form. It’s soft, he gets up and jumps well. He can get it off screens, can get it off the bounce, get it in transition. And then he understands how to score off the dribble, he’s not out of control off the dribble. He understands angles and when to take his shots. I like his demeanor on the court. I think he’s got great demeanor from freshman. He does score a lot of points, but from what I’ve seen, he plays within himself.
“Then he makes big plays on defense, blocks shots every once in awhile. But yeah, I’ve enjoyed watching him on film, very talented individual, very smooth, definitely going to be playing this game for a very long time.”