ANTONIO GONZALEZ,AP Sports Writer
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — One grew up in such poverty he had days when he wondered where he would find his next meal. The other is a coach’s son who attended the same high school as a player whose jersey is retired in the rafters.
Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum, while opposites in many ways, are now tied together in the same backcourt. The Sacramento Kings hope that will be the case for several years to come.
On the day NBA free agency began, Sacramento formally introduced its draft picks Monday. The team touted both as players with high character and tremendous potential who will help build the foundation of the franchise’s “new era,” which could become even more pressing if restricted free agent guard Tyreke Evans doesn’t return.
New owner Vivek Ranadive treated both to dinner along with their friends and family Sunday night. The wealthy Silicon Valley businessman said each impressed him as much or more as a person than as a player.
McLemore’s well-chronicled rise from a depressed St. Louis neighborhood to a star at Kansas has finally reached the NBA, a place he could only imagine when he was growing up in the smallest house on Wellston Avenue. He chose the No. 16 with the Kings because he is one of Sonya Reid’s six children — and also because the two numbers equal his draft slot, No. 7.
“Ben’s story is the stuff of legends,” said Ranadive, who can relate to the perseverance after starting from humble beginnings in India, then graduating from MIT and Harvard and founding TIBCO Software. “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 recalled how he and his youngest brother, Kevin, would do whatever they could — mow lawns, clean cars, even dispose of trash — to find a few dollars to eat. His mother worked various low-level jobs — when she was fortunate enough to find work — and as many as 10 relatives would sleep in their 600-square foot home.
Kansas coach Bill Self gave him a shot, but McLemore had to redshirt during the 2011-12 season when he was declared a partial academic qualifier by the NCAA. He worked that year to become eligible and made the most of his only season in Lawrence, earning second-team All-American honors and breaking Danny Manning’s freshman scoring record.
McLemore averaged 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and two assists on a team that went 31-6 and won a share of its ninth straight Big 12 title. He shot nearly 50 percent from the floor and 42 percent from 3-point range.
Not only will McLemore have a chance to live out his dream on the court, he will be able to help out the loved ones who have struggled most his entire life.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” said McLemore, who said he reminds himself of his motto “stay humble, stay hungry” every day. “I’m a person who likes to give back, and I have plans to give back to my community. To be able to take care of my family, it’s just a dream come true.”
McCallum’s background is one of the reasons new coach Mike Malone likes the point guard so much.
McCallum was a McDonald’s All-American in high school — starring at Detroit Country Day School, where former Kings standout Chris Webber also played — who turned down offers from UCLA and Arizona to stay at home and play point guard for his father, Ray McCallum Sr., at Detroit.
“It just came down to trust and who had the best interest in me,” McCallum said.
Malone, the son of longtime basketball coach and current Kings assistant Brendan Malone, said McCallum uses his smarts and savvy — not to mention his ball-handling skills and athleticism — to make up for his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame, which is a bit undersized by NBA standards. The new coach even had a chance to work both players out over the weekend.
For McCallum, playing under his father wasn’t always easy. The two clashed maybe more than most, he said, because his father could push him the way no other coach can.
There were plenty of special memories, too. McCallum said leading Detroit past Valparaiso to win the 2012 Horizon League tournament title on his father’s birthday — March 6 — is something the two will always cherish.
“That’s something I wouldn’t have been able to do anywhere else,” he said.
With the Kings, who were nearly sold and moved to Seattle in May, both players recognized the unique opportunity to play together — and bring a basketball-loving community together, too.
“Words can’t explain how happy I am,” McLemore said. “I’m just enjoying this moment with my new family, the Sacramento Kings, and this new program we’re about to build together as a family.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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