Harrellson comfortable looking ahead

CALIPARI EXPECTS CENTER WILL CONTRIBUTE

jtipton@herald-leader.comOctober 6, 2009 

  • If you go

    Big Blue Madness

    When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16

    Where: Rupp Arena

    ESPN book lists UK as top men's basketball program of all-time. B2

Big man Josh Harrellson feels more comfortable going into his second Kentucky basketball season.

"Because I've been through the battles," he said.

Although his on-court experiences included competing against North Carolina All-American Tyler Hansbrough, Harrellson's most memorable struggle surely came at Vanderbilt last season.

Then-UK Coach Billy Gillispie ordered Harrellson to listen to the halftime instruction from a bathroom stall.

"The bathroom was connected," Harrellson said in trying to downplay the significance of incident. "I still listened to the game plan. I still watched what he (Gillispie) was doing."

Harrellson acknowledged feeling humiliated "a little bit," but added that the banishment inflicted no lasting damage.

"I didn't take it any way," he said. "I just knew he (Gillispie) was frustrated because of what was going on. Nobody playing hard or good at the time."

Gillispie, an unabashed Bob Knight fan, might have been mimicking his coaching career. He certainly made a Knight-like move after the 77-64 loss at Vanderbilt by ordering Harrellson to ride back to Lexington in an equipment truck and not with his teammates.

"That's because I had a class at eight in the morning, supposedly," Harrellson said. "Because the equipment truck was faster. Something like that."

When asked if that explanation should be believed, Harrellson said, "Nope."

Frustration had saturated Kentucky that Feb. 17 night. The Cats came to Nashville seeking revenge for a 93-52 loss to Vanderbilt the previous season. That marked the proud program's most lopsided loss in Southeastern Conference play. Ever.

"Then going back this year and letting them walk all over us," Harrellson said.

Harrellson offered no explanation why Gillispie singled him out.

"I'm not sure," he said. "I'm still trying to figure it out myself. I don't think anybody knows."

Harrellson said Gillispie's treatment didn't adversely affect his relationship with his teammates.

"I knew it wouldn't change anything," he said.

Instead, his teammates made Harrellson hearing Gillispie's halftime oratory from the lavatory a source of humor.

"Perry (Stevenson) said, 'I wish you had flushed the toilet,' " Harrellson said.

Tied at halftime, UK went on to lose 77-64.

"It was all fun and games," Harrellson said. "It is now. Back then, we didn't know what happened. Nobody knew. I just brushed it off my shoulder and went back to practice the next day."

To the suggestion that Gillispie was trying to anger the easy-going Harrellson, the player said, "It made me mad. But I didn't get to go back in the game."

In the context of athletics, such incidents can be dismissed. Harrellson holds no grudge.

"We had a really good relationship," he said of Gillispie. "Getting to know him while he was recruiting me, I liked him a lot. We built a good relationship. He liked me as a player and he liked me as a person. I think he wanted the best for me. I didn't play the way he wanted me to play."

And how did Gillispie want Harrellson to play?

"I don't know," the player said. "He never told me. Just play stronger, I guess.

"A lot of people say they see something in me. A lot of times, I don't see it."New UK Coach John Calipari describes Harrellson as a "diamond in the rough." Last week, Calipari noted how his dribble-drive offense requires ball-handling skills and quick-fire decision making. The coach suggested Harrellson could contribute those qualities.

Plus, Harrellson is 6-foot-10.

"There are games you just need a big guy, just be big, just get in there and be big," Calipari said. "He can do that. He's in a nine- or 10-man rotation. You've got another guy with that size. How many teams do?"

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