John Clay: Andrew Harrison's emergence important for Kentucky

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 18, 2014 

ESPN's Chad Ford is to the NBA Draft what Mel Kiper is to the NFL Draft, sans the mane, of course. Ford is a draft guru, a perceived expert on the subject who makes his living breaking down the respective professional futures of current collegians.

So on a draft chat last week, the master of the mocks was asked to gaze into his crystal ball and predict where the Harrison twins Andrew and Aaron might go come summer when the NBA teams choose fresh blood.

Answered Ford, "Hopefully, back to Kentucky for their sophomore seasons."

Ouch.

And then Saturday afternoon as the Kentucky Wildcats rallied from yet another slow start to beat the visiting Tennessee Volunteers 74-66 in Rupp Arena, Andrew Harrison scored 26 points, was 10-for-10 at the foul line, contributed three assists and did not turn the ball over in 33 minutes.

Feast on that, Mr. Ford.

Growth?

"I know I'm not playing as well as I can and that's what I'm trying to do," said Andrew afterward when someone asked him about the growth of his game. "That just comes from hard work."

It was all supposed to be so easy for the Texas twins. Rivals.com ranked Andrew as the No. 1 point guard in the nation and the No. 5 overall prospect in the Class of 2013. Aaron was ranked as the No. 1 shooting guard and No. 7 prospect overall.

Headed to the school now known for its one-and-dones, the Harrisons seemed certain to be on that track, especially Andrew, the point guard. John Wall was one-and-done. Brandon Knight was one-and-done. Marquis Teague was one-and-done. Surely, Andrew would stick to the script.

Instead, it's been some up, some down, inconsistency all around. Rhetoric without results. There have been body language issues, quickness issues, shooting issues. It looked more and more as though the Harrisons would have their Bluegrass stay extended, and not for the right reasons.

But then the forgotten thing from Tuesday's dramatic 87-85 loss at Arkansas was Andrew Harrison rising up from the right corner and nailing a three-pointer to send the late show into overtime.

Then Saturday, after Julius Randle carried the Cats with 16 points in the first half, Andrew placed the Cats on his back during the second 20 minutes. He scored 16 points, which included an 8-for-8 showing from the foul line.

"He did a great job of attacking the ball screen in the second half, getting in the lane, shooting a pull-up," said Tennessee Coach Cuonzo Martin. "So give him credit for making an adjustment. He made the plays to really get them over the hump."

"We've been working really hard on the pick-and-roll stuff for him and trying to teach him the pace of the game," said UK Coach John Calipari. "He's big, he's got size, so it's not like a 6-foot guard going in there. He did good stuff."

Kentucky needs more good stuff. Four games into the conference season, it's obvious that this team, while talented, will have to earn its wins. It needed an uncharacteristic near-perfect day at the foul line — 23-for-24 — to subdue a Tennessee that bashed the Cats on the glass.

This being a Calipari team, point guard is key. Andrew Harrison cannot match Wall's quickness, or Knight's scoring ability or Teague's toughness, but there is a reason the recruiting services fell in love with his game.

Having game is one thing. Learning to use that game in college is quite another. When a freshman becomes more than a freshman is when he learns how to make the adjustments necessary to deal with the circumstances involved.

"They were staying on the shooters," Andrew explained of the Vols. "James and Julius had a big first half. I felt like in the pick and roll I could get to the middle and beat the big guy out with the dribble and get to the lane and find the open man."

If Andrew Harrison is indeed finding his way, skeptics will become believers, and Kentucky's future bright.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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