Mark Story: Kentucky basketball's Harrow knows he must make the most of this season

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistOctober 11, 2012 

Ryan Harrow says he has gained more than 40 pounds since high school. Yet Kentucky's sophomore point guard still looks thinner than a straw.

On Harrow's slender shoulders rests the most exacting current standard of excellence in big-time college sports.

The personable Harrow is the next link in the chain of John Calipari point guards — Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague.

That's five NBA first-round draft picks, four NBA lottery picks, three NCAA Final Four trips (counting the vacated 2008 Memphis visit), two No. 1 overall NBA draft picks, two NBA Rookies of the Year, one NBA MVP and one NCAA championship.

And you think there is pressure in your job.

"I've got to live up to the expectations of all those other point guards," Harrow said Thursday at Kentucky's annual men's basketball Media Day. "I think I can do it, but you don't want to put that in your head 'Derrick Rose played before me; John Wall played before me.'"

In his high-pitched voice that is similar to that of Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson, Harrow said simply "I'm just going to do the best I can and try to help my team out."

Unlike the five one-and-done Calipari point guards who preceded him, Harrow does not assume the quarterback role this season at Kentucky without prior college experience.

Two seasons ago, as a college freshman, Harrow played in 29 games (starting 10) at North Carolina State. The 6-foot-2, 168-pound Harrow averaged 9.3 points, had 96 assists to only 51 turnovers and made 87 percent of his foul shots. But he also shot only 39 percent from the floor and a frigid 22.2 percent on three-point shots (12-of-54) for a team that finished 15-16.

More had been expected from the five-star guard that Rivals ranked as the 19th best player in the 2010 high school class.

Yet, after Harrow decided to transfer, Calipari — who seems to have his pick of the top high school point guard each season — chose to take him instead of signing a high school lead guard from the class of 2012.

Last season, while Teague was running the point and Kentucky was bound for its eighth NCAA men's hoops championship, Harrow was a practice player.

In the redshirt year, Harrow said he worked the weights hard, improved his jump shot and expanded his knowledge of how a point guard should think.

"Know what each (other) player does well and help them do that," Harrow said of how he now sees his role.

From Calipari's regal point guard line, the coach said Harrow's game is closest to that of Knight. "He's out of the mold of Brandon," Calipari said. "He can score the ball. He's skilled like Brandon was."

The Kentucky head man said he expects opponents to see Harrow's lack of girth as an invitation to muscle the guard. "People are going to look at him and they are going to be real physical," Calipari said.

Harrow said foes have long tried to test his strength. In high school, Harrow said he weighed as little as 125 pounds. Kentucky guard Julius Mays, also formerly a North Carolina State guard, was Harrow's host on his recruiting visit to Raleigh.

"He was frail. He was like a stick," Mays said of Harrow back then. "He looked like if you bumped him, you could break all his bones."

Which helps explain why Harrow, now that he weighs "167, 168 pounds," feels like a bit of a muscle man. "I'm sure teams will try to push me around," he said. "But I'm a lot stronger than I look."

For a variety of reasons, he'll need to be. It's not only the standard of Calipari point guards of the past that Harrow must meet. Last week, Andrew Harrison, the nation's top-ranked high school point guard, committed to Kentucky for 2013-14.

So if Harrow doesn't play well enough to turn pro after this season, there is no certainty he will start again for Kentucky next year.

Erasto Hatchett, the former Henry Clay High School standout, Harrow's former high school coach and the guard's brother-in-law, said Harrow knows he needs to take advantage of his opportunity to be Calipari's point guard this season.

"When you've got the No. 1 point guard in the country coming to your school the next season, you know you're not promised anything but the present," Hatchett said. "Ryan knows he needs to stay focused on his team and his teammates and play the game the way he can. He's got the ability to do the things those (past Calipari point) guards have done. It's up to him to do them."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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