Editor’s Note: This interview appears in the June issue of aXis Magazine, which is dedicated to Orlando’s culture, nightlife, sports, music, drinking, ladies, etc. and so on, which means that it was focused on the idea of Ben McLemore being drafted by the Orlando Magic later this month. But I tried to make it as NBA-centric as possible so I could share it here and not make people all angry about my horrible bias. So please enjoy.
On June 27, the Cleveland Cavaliers are presumably going to select University of Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel with the first pick of the 2013 NBA Draft. Obviously, nothing in life is certain except for death, taxes and Kate Upton restraining orders against me, so the Cavs could take good, long looks at Alex Len, Ben McLemore or Otto Porter and decide that one of them is more in line with helping Cleveland move closer to fulfilling owner Dan Gilbert’s promise to win an NBA Championship before LeBron James. *looks around awkwardly*
Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic will be waiting with the No. 2 pick – unless they trade down, which would be fun – and it is predicted that either McLemore or Michigan guard Trey Burke will be selected there. Some people believe that McLemore is not only the most underrated gem of this year’s draft, but also maybe even the guy who deserves to be taken first. So when I was asked if I’d like to speak to him about why he believes he’d be a great fit with not only the Magic but also the City Beautiful, I said yes and put on my top hat and monocle so I’d look important.
It was a phone interview, mind you, but I still like to dress the part. McLemore was quick to win me over, as he’d done his homework on the Magic and chatted with me about his hopes for the NBA, how he’ll keep the groupies in check and what he thinks of our mutual favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Burnsy: For the sake of this interview, we’re going to pretend that I’m the GM of the Orlando Magic (like I should be) and you have to convince me that you’re the man that I should take with the No. 2 pick. So what qualities set you apart from the rest of the guys in this draft? Why are you Orlando’s guy?
Ben McLemore: The Orlando Magic are obviously a young team with a coaching staff that’s devoted to teaching the young guys about winning, and I think that with my upside and my ability to shoot the ball and switch up defenders, I can fit perfectly with what the Magic are trying to do.
Burnsy: What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone says Orlando?
Ben: (laughs) Disney World.
Burnsy: Have you ever been to Disney World? If not, would you be willing to postpone your first trip until the Magic win an NBA title?
Ben: I’ve never been, so I’d like to go when I get to Orlando if the Magic draft me.
Burnsy: You probably should go right away, because history suggests that you may never go to Disney World if you agreed.
Obviously, Florida offers people a lot more than most other states, and Orlando is basically right in the center of it all, so you’d have music, culture, beaches and nightlife all readily available. How much of an influence is a city’s culture in making you feel comfortable, whether Orlando, Cleveland, Charlotte, New Orleans, etc.?
Ben: I don’t think I’ll have a problem fitting in wherever I go, because I’m good with people and I feel like can I always be personal and fit in with any city.
Burnsy: How much NBA do you watch during a season? Are you the kind of guy who just watches one team or do you watch as much of the action as possible?
Ben: I try to watch as much action as I can. I like to watch how the different teams play together on the court, how they play defense and how they just play as a team. I try to watch the players from each division and how they create for themselves and their footwork and try to use that and learn from that to put into my game and make myself better.
Burnsy: Once you’re drafted and playing in the NBA – in Orlando or some other, loser town – are you worried at all about the groupie culture? Orlando does have a lot of very, very good-looking women.
Ben: (laughs) I think I’ll be able to handle that. I’ve matured a lot.
Burnsy: As you played in college and your future as an eventual lottery pick became clearer, were there any teams that you watched and thought, “That’s a team that I can make an immediate impact for”?
Ben: Not really. I’m just glad that I have the chance to be in this situation. To be considered one of the top lottery picks, that’s a blessing. And to be able to play in the NBA is something that I’ve just always dreamed of.
Burnsy: Are you for or against the NBA’s rule that requires players to spend a year in college before they can be eligible for the draft? Is that something that helped you or would you have wanted to go pro right out of high school?
Ben: I think it definitely helped me a lot. The things like going to school and getting any academics in are definitely going to help you in the long run. At this point, I’m still thinking about going back and taking some sort of summer classes and eventually getting my degree.
Burnsy: If Andrew Wiggins would have made his decision and committed to Kansas before you declared for the draft, would that have made any difference in your choice?
Ben: I don’t think it would have made any difference. I already had my mind set and made up. I have to do what’s best for me and make the right decision for me. He obviously made a great choice by picking Kansas with the perfect coach in Bill Self and he’ll be great for the Jayhawks, but I needed to take my decision about my next step and playing in the NBA.
Burnsy: How familiar are you with the new culture that the Magic has adopted in the wake of Dwight Howard’s mishandling of his departure and trade demands? Would you feel comfortable joining a team that is dominated by young talent, as opposed to one with more veteran leadership?
Ben: I definitely would. I can give a lot, especially to a young team like the Magic. I got to play with four guys this past year and it taught me a lot about playing with veterans and experienced guys, so I was able to learn a lot more that I could take with me to the next level.
Burnsy: Analysts and critics compare your style and ability to Ray Allen. Is that a valid comparison or is there someone else you think is more fitting?
Ben: I think that’s a pretty valid comparison. He’s one of the best shooters in NBA history, so I’ve tried to watch how he does the little things and also how he shoots the ball so I can learn more. Like I said, I think it’s a great comparison.
Burnsy: Us Orlando fans, we’re a pretty tortured bunch. We’ve come close two times, missed and then lost our superstars to Los Angeles. But most of all, we just like having guys that are active in the community. Do you feel that you’re a face of the franchise type that can lead a young team on and off the court?
Ben: Oh definitely. That’s one of the things that I want to do in helping a team win and leading a team to a championship is also helping the community. Wherever I go, I want to give back and I also want to give back to my own community. I’m very fortunate to be where I am and have this opportunity, so I want to not only give back but also just socialize with my new community.
Burnsy: Like me, you’re from St. Louis, a town that hasn’t had an NBA franchise in a very long time. A lot of last month’s NBA news focused on the possibility of the Sacramento Kings moving to Seattle. Do you think that St. Louis should be the next city to get a franchise?
Ben: St. Louis is a great sports town, with baseball, football and hockey, so I don’t know why they wouldn’t get a team. I think it would be a great city for an NBA team.
Burnsy: I visited St. Louis two years ago to catch a Cardinals game and eat at Pappy’s. Are you worried at all about not having any good BBQ once you leave the Midwest?
Ben: I’m not too worried about that. I’ll miss a lot about the Midwest, but I’m ready to go somewhere and help a team win.
Burnsy: We have a place here called 4 Rivers that you’ll love, so again, Orlando is a very good destination, despite what a guy like Dwight Whoever says.
Finally, and this is probably the most important question I will ask in regard to giving you my endorsement for the No. 2 pick by the Magic. You’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. If the Magic pick you, are we watching the World Series together in October?
Ben: I think the Cardinals have a lot of talented guys and they can definitely win the World Series this year, so I’d definitely be watching them if they did.
Burnsy: Fine, I’ll watch it by myself.