Walt Lemon Jr. started the season considered one of the good guards in the Missouri Valley.
The Bradley junior could end it on the short list of the league’s best players following a breakout season.
Lemon ranks sixth in the Valley in scoring with a 15.0 average, having developed into a player who can get his points in a variety of ways from just about anywhere on the court. He also is among the top 10 in four other statistical categories.
“I think Walt Lemon is one of the best guards in the country,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “His speed and his quickness and his ability to make shots around the basket — layups, floaters, pull-ups — is elite.
“He could play anywhere.”
As a freshman, Lemon averaged 6.4 points per game. He hiked that to 12.6 a season ago before emerging as one of the league’s top scorers this season. His improvement in other areas of the game has shown similar progression.
The reason for that improvement, Bradley coach Geno Ford said, is simple.
“As coaches, it makes us feel good when we can talk about how hard our guys play or how much they want to be good,” Ford said. “Sometimes we mean it, and sometimes we really mean it. In Walt’s case, I’ve never had a guy work as hard as he does. He’s in the gym all the time.”
Lemon’s work ethic has allowed him to smooth out the peaks and valleys that were once a part of his game.
“A year ago, he had his moments,” Ford said. “He played well in the league but he was up and down. He’d go for 20 points and eight assists, and then he’d come back and he might get called for four charges and not be nearly as effective.
“He showed the ability to be a dominant player on certain nights. The way he’s worked, he deserves to have a good year. You don’t always get what you deserve, but in his case it’s an example of putting in the work. Walt wants to be special, and his improvement is self-made.”
Players of the week
Overall: Illinois State guard Tyler Brown. The senior from Owensboro, Ky., averaged 26 points, 7.5 assists and 2.5 steals in two wins last week. He scored 23 of his 27 points against Creighton in the second half, running off 13 straight at one point.
Newcomer: Southern Illinois guard Jalen Pendleton. The freshman from Evansville, Ind., averaged 12.5 points and 4.5 rebounds as the Salukis split a pair of games. He scored the last six points in the upset of Wichita State.
Quote of the week
Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson, on Wednesday’s game against Evansville: “It’s not a good matchup for us. We do not play well against cerebral teams. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now we’re not a real cerebral team.”