Andrew Harrison adapting to life under 'Calipari point guard' microscope

jtipton@herald-leader.comDecember 20, 2013 

Point guard. Kentucky. John Calipari.

These are the scalpel, scissors and forceps by which you can get dissected like a frog in biology class.

Andrew Harrison, the latest in a line of highly touted UK point guards, is now under the knife. Oh, and the Big Blue Nation sits on the edge of its collective seat to watch the subject get picked apart.

"It's different," Harrison said Thursday of his high-profile role on Kentucky's team. "It's a big responsibility. At the same time, I knew it coming in and just have to get better at it."

The unblinking examination extends past mere offense and defense. It goes beyond decision-making to nebulous intangibles that might go unnoticed by the casual observer. Something as simple as an ill-timed frown, slumped shoulder or chin drop can cause repercussions.

When asked if he understood Calipari's criticism about body language, Harrison said, "Any player is disappointed when they don't do something great. But at the same time it's not about you or any individual, it's about the team. That's how you have to handle it."

While seldom mentioning Harrison by name, Calipari has been relentless in appraising his new freshman point guard.

The UK coach has called for more pressure on the ball and a better understanding of how to balance attacking the basket with getting the ball to a hot shooter.

At one point, Calipari even hinted at how a crafty player (the point guard?) could time a pass so that a teammate had to return the ball. That way, the original passer (Harrison?) could get a shot.

Calipari acknowledged Thursday what many of his players have said since he became Kentucky coach in 2009. Most notably, Ryan Harrow protested last pre-season when ESPN's All-Access cameras showed Calipari the critic in full bloom.

"Historically, it's been the hardest position to play," the UK coach said of point guard. "... You've got to focus on, 'How do I help my team get better?' That's something we're still learning."

After 11 games, Harrison's scoring average of 10.9 points ranks fourth among Calipari's five point guards at UK. He has the poorest shooting percentage (39.4 percent) and the fewest rebounds (26). But he's also turned the ball over the second-fewest times (27) and shot the second-most free throws.

In other words, Harrison fits comfortably in this exclusive club. Derrick Rose, the gold standard for Calipari point guards, averaged 15.5 points after 11 games for Memphis. He made 47.5 percent of his shots, made 48 of 69 free throws, grabbed 52 rebounds and had 48 assists and 40 turnovers.

Calipari spoke of the importance of defense.

"At the end of the day, we've got to be a great defensive team," he said. "That's what we need to be. And we're not. It starts with pressure (on the ball)."

That would be the point guard's job.

Kentucky also needs more pace in order to beat the opposition's defense down court.

That also sounded like the point guard's job, although Calipari said that did not start and end with the ball handler.

"The wings are not sprinting either," he said. "Julius (Randle) isn't sprinting."

Calipari attributed the effective play of North Carolina's James Michael McAdoo against Kentucky last weekend to nothing more complicated than running the court in transition.

"Now that's not too much to ask," he said. "That's what we're trying to get to."

The point guard and the wings and the big men need to run in transition not necessarily to score, but to be in position to exploit scoring opportunities.

"It's not their habit," Calipari said of his freshmen.

Habit is something to keep in mind. Like his celebrated predecessors as freshman point guards for Kentucky, Harrison is practically having to relearn how to play basketball. What worked in high school/AAU will not automatically work in college.

In his own way, Harrison must dissect the way he's always played basketball and adjust.

"It's just playing with speed at every moment," he said.


BELMONT AT NO. 19 KENTUCKY

When: Noon Saturday | Where: Rupp Arena | TV: ESPNU | Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1 Records: Belmont 8-4, No. 19 Kentucky 8-3 | Series: First meeting


Comparing Calipari's point guards at UK

How John Calipari's five starting point guards fared in their first 11 games:

Player Min FG-A 3FG-A FT-A Reb Ast TO Pts

Andrew Harrison29.4 28-71 9-25 55-74 26 42 27 10.9

Ryan Harrow26.3 44-106 11-32 12-20 27 37 16 10.1

Marquis Teague30.5 49-107 9-27 15-27 26 51 31 11.1

Brandon Knight31.2 67-149 24-70 36-48 39 39 42 17.5

John Wall34.2 67-127 10-24 64-75 44 77 49 17.8

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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