By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Anfernee McLemore's thirst for knowledge extends beyond the classroom, showing up on the grade sheet and the stat sheet.
While representing Auburn at the SEC's leadership conference in July, McLemore listened carefully when basketball referees discussed points of emphasis when calling fouls.
"The refs told me that if you jump straight up with two hands in the air, they won't call a foul even if you make contact, so that's what I've been doing," said McLemore, who leads the SEC with 3.4 blocks per game. "I've been trying to contest every shot and just jump straight up, and they won't call fouls."
In his second career start and first of the season Sunday in Auburn's 79-63 win over George Mason, McLemore blocked five shots and grabbed 10 rebounds, without fouling.
"I like playing defense: block and get rebounds," said McLemore. "I feel like that's when I benefit the team the most when I'm on the defensive end. Our coach gives us great defense, so I'm always in a position where I can contest and get a block. With a layup, they're always trying to get to the same spot, trying to put it in the basket, so if I protect the basket, I'll get blocks."
The 6-7 sophomore prides himself on rim protection.
"I don't like to let people score on me," he said. "If some of our guys get beat, I like to be their backup, so they have confidence that they can play defense, and I'm there to protect them."
A stellar student at Worth County High School near Albany, Georgia, McLemore considered academic offers from Brown and Yale before choosing Auburn.
"I decided to stay close to home, and [Auburn basketball coach Bruce Pearl] showed me a lot of love," McLemore said. "He told me I would come here and develop and that's why I chose Auburn."
The Ivy League's loss is the SEC's gain.
"It feels like home," McLemore said. "The fans, whether you win or lose, they're always behind you. The coaches show you so much love and support for you. They want to see you succeed. And I'm not too far from home, about two hours, so that's a big factor. My family can actually come watch me play. It's a nice environment to play in."
The SEC's leading shot blocker, Anfernee McLemore averages 3.4 blocks per game
'A standout in class'
An accounting major, McLemore credited Amy Murphy, a professor in the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, for guiding him through her Principles of Financial Accounting course.
"Anfernee was definitely a standout in class," Murphy said. "He demonstrated daily an understanding of the material and his preparedness for class by asking meaningful questions and participating during my lectures."
McLemore has always prioritized academics, achieving his goal of being a high school honors graduate.
"I like getting good grades. It felt good when I got an A on something," he said. "To this day, it still feels good when I work hard and it pays off for me."
That work ethic carries over to the court, where McLemore is Auburn's second-leading rebounder, averaging 6.4. He also leads the team in three throws, shooting 88 percent.
"That was a big focus this year, to improve my free-throw percentage," McLemore said. "I just wanted to make sure Coach had confidence in me when I was out on the court late in the game that I would knock down some free throws."
He also added 3-point shooting to his repertoire.
"When I start knocking them down, there's going to be some big trouble [for opponents]," he said.
McLemore earned his spot in the starting lineup by producing a double-double with 12 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks in Auburn's 73-60 win at Dayton.
"One in every five possessions he's on the floor, he's blocking a shot," Pearl said. "I've never heard of anything quite like that. At 6-7, he's really an unusual player. He lives in the gym. He's disciplined."
McLemore's hunger to learn serves as a role model to young players with college basketball aspirations.
"Even if you're an average basketball player, the academics can put you above some other guys," he said. "It's always finding a slight edge over your competition. If you can do anything that can put you ahead, I try for it."
True to his studious nature, McLemore successfully navigated the learning curve that comes with transitioning from high school hoops to the SEC.
"Now that I've been here a year, it's slowing down for me," he said. "I'm understanding the game more, and all of it is coming together now. I want to keep making steady and consistent progress. Keep getting better. That's all I want to do."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer