Chicago’s got a streaking, sports team winner, and it’s not quite apples and oranges.
Actually it’s a Lemon. One that’s been pretty sweet for the Windy City Bulls.
"Since we added Walt Lemon it’s made all the difference,” said Windy City Bulls coach Charlie Henry. "We were 5-11 when we added him. We had one practice and lost the first game and since then we haven’t lost, eight straight wins. He’s been a huge part of what we are doing. He makes the game easier for everyone else the way he can get downhill, make plays for everyone, helping guys by being able to play off him.
"We needed him badly and he was able to come home and play in front of his friends and family. Win, win,” said Henry.
And, yes, pretty much all the Windy City Bulls have done since is win. Plus playing a high energy, appealing offensive style game behind the leadership of the 6-3 point guard from far South Side Percy Julian High School and Bradley U.
"It’s been about playing together, unselfish basketball and that has to start with me,” said Lemon. "I can score, but I’ve worked to become a better distributor and with my speed and athleticism, it’s enabled guys to get the better shots we need. We’re playing together. Nobody worries about stats. It’s about the team. We pass up good shots for great shots and play defense; it’s a fun type of basketball. It’s contagious when you see how successful playing together can be. It’s about playing together, being unselfish and helping one another.”
The Windy City Bulls are looking for that to continue Friday and Saturday in the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates. Windy City hosts Wisconsin 7 p.m. Friday and Greensboro 7 p.m. Saturday, the latter which is a deaf awareness night.
Lemon is looking to create his own awareness, as everyone is who plays in the G-league.
Lemon is continuing to make his point—and points in leading the team in scoring, assists and steals—in an effort to get back to the NBA after a pair of 10-day contracts last season with the New Orleans Pelicans.
"It looked like they were going to re-sign me for the playoffs, but they went with more experience. It’s a business; I understand,” said Lemon. "But I didn’t want to go back overseas. I feel sometimes when you do, it’s out of sight, out of mind. So I feel if I stay here with a fresh run, teams can see who I am and what I can do, that I will get an opportunity with another team.”
Lemon is not one of the Bulls pair of two-way G-league players — they are Rawle Alkins and Brandon Sampson — so Lemon is eligible to sign with any NBA team. He is a left hander reminiscent of a player like Memphis’ Mike Conley, though not as good a shooter. Lemon was one of two Windy City players along with C.J. Fair to be selected all-tournament in the G-league Showcase last month in Las Vegas, the NBA scouting tournament for the G-league.
It’s been part of Lemon’s sometime sour winding road in the almost there world of professional basketball.
"Walt’s very athletic, quick, gets the ball into the paint effortlessly,” said Henry. "His shooting is an area to improve, but he is competitive and tough. He grew up admiring D-Rose’s game, and you can see some similarities with his body, playing downhill and playing through contact. He opens things up with the pressure he puts on the defense.”
Lemon is leading Windy City at 19 points per game and 8.8 assists per game, though 21.4 points per game overall since he previously played for Ft. Wayne. Windy City traded for his rights after Tyler Ulis was injured and eventually released.
"We’ve talked about the importance of good point guard play,” said Henry. "Rawle and Brandon are good players, but not point guards. So they need someone to run the position and make plays and help them do their jobs. We thought we had that with Tyler Ulis, but we lost him early after four games.”
Lemon had been on a two-way contract this season with the Boston Celtics, again so close he could almost reach out and touch the NBA life. But with an excess of guards, the Celtics let him go and Lemon returned to the G-league, where he has been a dominant player.
After leaving Julian, Lemon played four years at Bradley. After a shaky start not playing for former coach Jim Les, he went on to average 18 points as a senior, a slam dunk champion and a top scholar athlete and who graduated with a degree in psychology. He was a three-time member of Bradley’s athletic honor roll.
Lemon also was active in the Peoria community volunteering at hospital hospice centers and working with children who have lost parents or relatives to disease. His father, Walt Lemon, Sr., died of kidney cancer when Walt Jr was in high school.
Lemon, 26, wasn’t drafted in 2014 and went to play first in Hungary and then Germany. He returned to U.S. to the G-league with Ft. Wayne, and then played for top teams in Greece and Turkey. He came back to the G-league last season and was among the top scorers before the 10-day contracts with New Orleans. He went to Summer League with New Orleans and then caught the eye of the Celtics before eventually landing with Windy City.
His addition after Windy City stumbled when Ulis was hurt has enhanced an entertaining team playing a fast paced, wide open game with six players averaging in double figures. It’s a smaller team with big men shooting threes and switching on defense in a versatile game orchestrated by Lemon.
"Going out of the country for the first time was tough,” Lemon acknowledged. "Nobody spoke English. I didn’t know anything about the food, culture; it was a different style of game, different rules. But once I got familiar with it, things were a whole lot easier and it helped me a lot to learn to be professional, take care of my body, lifting weights and practicing, having the right habits.