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McLemore, Traylor ready to go for No. 7 Kansas

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McLemore, Traylor ready to go for No. 7 Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) The taste of college basketball has come in sips for Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, just enough to make them thirsty for more.

The high-profile recruits were deemed partial qualifiers by the NCAA last season, which left them to watch as Kansas made another remarkable run to the Final Four. They couldn't practice until the second semester, and even then had to find their own way to see games played on the road.

They were finally able to suit up during a summer trip to Europe, and then got their first true taste of Allen Fieldhouse in a pair of exhibition games against Division II opponents.

On Friday night, the talented freshmen will finally get to absorb big-time college hoops.

The seventh-ranked Jayhawks - the eight-time defending Big 12 champions - open against Southeast Missouri in their only tuneup before next week's showdown against No. 14 Michigan State.

McLemore and Traylor should have been eligible last season, as far as coach Bill Self is concerned. But some questions about their grades forced them to stay away from the program entirely the first semester. It wasn't until December that they could practice with the team.

That is when McLemore, an athletic guard who draws comparisons to Brandon Rush, and Traylor, a slightly undersized version of Thomas Robinson, finally showed teammates what they had been missing.

McLemore has an uncanny ability to hover in the air, something he demonstrated on a couple of high-flying dunks during exhibition games. Traylor has the same kind of rebounding ability - though still unharnessed - that made Robinson a first-team All-American last season.

``The greatest lesson I learned last year is to just be humble, and you know, let things come to you and stuff like that,'' McLemore said. ``Last year I was getting a lot of talk from Elijah Johnson, and he was telling me stuff he'd been though, and stuff I will go through.''

Even Johnson, a senior, couldn't prepare McLemore for sitting out a year, though.

It was bad enough to have to watch games on campus, no different than the thousands of students who pack the ends of Allen Fieldhouse for every home game. But it was games on the road that were truly challenging - the logistics of getting there presenting plenty of hurdles.

Sometimes they would hitch a ride with cheerleaders or band members, or perhaps some friends, and sometimes they would figure out a way to drive themselves to far-flung places like Lubbock, Texas.

``I mean, I couldn't play, but I also enjoyed watching my teammates play,'' McLemore said, ``and all I could think about was next year and what we could do as a team again.''

Naturally, McLemore and Traylor have become fast friends.

That is what happens when you spend so much time in the car together.

``Maybe a little too much time in the car, because Ben McLemore has the worst gas,'' Traylor said with a laugh. ``Definitely too much time on the road with that.''

The duo even managed to find a way to New Orleans, where they watched the Jayhawks beat Ohio State in the national semifinals before falling to Kentucky in the title game.

``We definitely went to the Final Four. That was a great experience,'' McLemore said, sounding only a little despondent. ``Hopefully we as a team can go back there again.''

If they do, McLemore and Traylor will be a big reason why.

The 6-foot-5 guard from St. Louis led the Jayhawks with 14 points and eight rebounds per game in their two exhibition games, showing perhaps the best instincts on the team. Traylor averaged 5.5 points and three rebounds, but has only played high-level, organized basketball for a couple years.

That makes the comparisons to Robinson, at least for now, a bit unfair.

``If Thomas got one mitt on the ball, he got possession of it. He was a fierce, competitive rebounder,'' Self said. ``The thing about Jamari, Jamari's going to be good, but he's never played. He's going to be good, but it's going to take time.''

Plenty of patience, too, something McLemore and Traylor have already demonstrated they have.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: On to Vegas!

The Capitals are the Eastern Conference Champions!

After dispatching Tampa Bay in Game 7, the Caps claimed the conference crown for just the second time in franchise history. But they're not done yet. Now it's on to Vegas to face the Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir break down the Caps' win over the Lightning and look ahead to the matchup with the Knights.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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