WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Gerald McLemore made an immediate impact when he stepped onto the court at the University of Maine in 2008.
The San Diego native set a lofty standard by knocking down 127 3-pointers for coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears.
Ever since, McLemore has worked tirelessly to maintain his perimeter presence while expanding other areas of his game despite suffering a personal loss shortly after his sophomore season when his father died.
The 6-foot-3 guard will be a focal point Saturday night as seventh-seeded UMaine tries to knock off No. 2 Vermont in the quarterfinals of the America East Men’s Basketball Championship at the University of Hartford’s Chase Family Arena.
McLemore has been a known commodity with his long-range shooting skills. The senior co-captain is UMaine’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made (323) and attempted (845).
“Even though he is a guy who everyone knows is going to shoot the ball from 3 for us and is going to be our primary guy when it comes to that, he always found a way to put himself in some free space to be able to get that shot off,” Woodward said.
His role has been critical this season as the Bears don’t have another consistently potent 3-point shooter.
McLemore said it is challenging being the target for opponents’ best defenders.
“It’s difficult and also, at times, frustrating,” McLemore said. “When you get to conference play, they know your play and they know what you like to do.”
Despite the attention, McLemore has found openings. He is shooting nearly 40 percent (73-for-184) on 3-pointers.
Woodward said McLemore’s forte is beating his man down the court in transition and spotting up for the quick-strike 3-pointer.
However, he also has continued to diversify his game. McLemore has tried to be more aggressive on offense by utilizing his ballhandling skills.
“This year, I wanted to try to get to the basket more. I wanted to add things to my game at the offensive end,” said McLemore, whose 89 two-point baskets this season is a career high.
Those efforts also have put him at the foul line more often and McLemore leads the league with a sparkling .924 free-throw percentage (61-for-66).
“He always has been a very good shooter, but obviously he’s worked very hard on his game,” Woodward said. “He’s been much more efficient off the dribble as his career has progressed.”
McLemore, a three-time all-conference selection, leads UMaine and ranks third in America East while averaging 17.0 points per game.
He also has continued to elevate the defensive side of his game. He is not one of those top scorers who has the luxury of guarding the opponent’s least productive offensive players.
“He’s been our best perimeter defender,” Woodward said. “He’s had to be in a spot of being our stopper. It’s a role that as a senior he needed to accept for us and he’s done a great job.”
Conditioning has been a critical component of McLemore’s success, enabling him to handle the rigors at both ends of the court. He is averaging 35.4 minutes per game, third most in the conference.
“It gets frustrating for the simple fact that you’re running around and they’re doubling you and and you’re running off screens, then you’re locking down on defense. It’s definitely a mental and physical fatigue,” McLemore said.
McLemore crossed the country to broaden his horizons. His parents had instilled in him the confidence to take chances and chase his dreams.
He was recruited by Brown University, but because it did not offer athletic scholarships, the Ivy League price tag was too high.
Brown head coach Craig Robinson graciously offered to help place McLemore at Worcester (Mass.) Academy for a prep year. He was only there for a semester.
Woodward offered him a scholarship.
Shortly after his sophomore season, during which he set the school single-season mark for 3-pointers (102) on his way to All-AE first-team honors, McLemore experienced a life-changing event.
After undergoing a minor surgical procedure his father Isaac McLemore died of a heart attack.
“When I think about basketball, I think about my dad,” McLemore said. “When I think about my dad, I think about basketball. He the one that showed me the game.”
McLemore always spoke to his dad on the phone before and after games. He trusted his advice and guidance.
“He’d give it to me straight,” McLemore said. “It was constructive criticism. It wasn’t anything negative.”
McLemore called his father a life coach, somebody whose guidance was invaluable to a young man looking to make a name for himself.
“He was my dad, my best friend. He loved me. I loved him,” McLemore said.
He is thankful for the continued love and support of his mother, Lauren, who is the recipient of pregame and postgame phone calls.
McLemore, who will graduate in May with a degree in communications, hopes to continue playing at the pro level.
“He’s a wonderful young man and I’m sure he’ll wind up having a tremendous amount of success when he leaves here,” Woodward said.
Before he takes the court Saturday night, McLemore will close his eyes and listen for his father’s voice and some words of inspiration.