Harrison twins' 'advantage' paying dividends for Kentucky

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 18, 2014 

When Kentucky Coach John Calipari launched into another tirade this season, Aaron and Andrew Harrison had a foolproof coping mechanism: each other.

"That's a lifelong advantage they've had over most people," the twins' father, Aaron Harrison, said Tuesday.

The Harrisons and other UK players seemed to need empathy much of the season. At one point, Calipari joked about replacing a table in his office with a psychiatrist's couch. He meant for the players, although the proverb physician, heal thyself came to mind.

Coincidentally or not, when Calipari "chilled," as wing James Young termed it, Kentucky's play improved last week in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

No coincidence, the elder Harrison said.

"I just think Coach changed his style a little bit," he said. "Basketball is an imperfect game. Since it's an imperfect game, you can't coach every dribble, you know what I mean?"

The father, who coached the Harrison brothers on the AAU level, said his sons are used to a demanding voice from the bench.

"But at some point, you've got to have some love involved," he said. "It can't be all negative. There's got to be some positives involved in that."

Not that Calipari has turned into Doris Day and adopted a philosophy of Que Sera, Sera going into the NCAA Tournament. "He's not let them off the hook," the elder Harrison said, "or not gotten on their case."

But with Calipari more subdued, the Kentucky players, in general, and the Harrisons, specifically, played well in Atlanta. Aaron Harrison made 18 of 36 shots (nine of 20 from three-point range) and averaged 17.3 points. Andrew Harrison set a career high with eight assists against LSU, then broke it with nine against Georgia.

"This is what everybody who's ever seen them play is used to seeing," the twins' father said. "I've probably gotten over 200 calls saying, 'OK, this is the Aaron and Andrew I know.'"

Of course, no one knows Aaron as well as Andrew, and vice versa.

"We're as close as two humans can be, actually," Aaron said before the season. "We do everything together. We've been everywhere together."

Although the Richmond, Texas, house they grew up in had six bedrooms, the twins shared a bedroom.

"Just natural habit," Aaron said. "Being together all the time."

Amy and Holly Ratliff, twins who are members of the stats crew for Kentucky home games, can identify. They, too, are nearly inseparable. Growing up, they shared a bedroom until the fifth grade. When the family moved to a larger home, they took separate bedrooms across the hall from each other.

"Left the doors open so we could see each other if we needed to," Amy said.

The Ratliff sisters took the same classes at Bath County High School, played on the school's basketball team, lived in the same dorm room at UK, served as interns together for UK and later the Cincinnati Reds, shared a car until age 23 and bought a house together (Amy lives upstairs, Holly downstairs).

"We're going to be 39 next month," Holly said. "People say, why aren't you married. I know I'm not married, but I have a wife."

Actually, Amy has a boyfriend, who is a basketball coach in Seattle.

"When she gets married, I get divorced," Holly said. "She goes out there about once a month. When she's gone, I'm just pathetic. I feel completely different. Like something's missing. Like a part of you is not there. You're just not whole."

The Ratliff sisters talk about a psychic connection that brings to mind how E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial shared emotions and physical reactions with the boy Elliott.

For instance, when they were at UK, Holly went to Nashville for ear surgery. The operation was scheduled for noon. At 9 that morning, Amy suddenly felt faint and had to sit down. "I shouldn't have been tired at all," she said.

Amy did not know that Holly was being anesthetized. Her surgery had been moved up to 9 a.m.

"You're never happy unless you're both happy," Amy said. "And if you're happier (than your twin), you almost feel guilty."

The Harrisons denied ever tricking a coach or a referee by switching jerseys. The Ratliffs thought about doing that at halftime of a middle school game after Amy had picked up three fouls in the first half. "Coach wouldn't let us," Amy said.

The Harrisons steadfastly support and encourage each other. Aaron took delight in Andrew's play in Atlanta.

"I know he's having fun," Aaron said of his brother. "He loves assists. I think he just needed to have fun. And that's how he's always played. He's just going back, loosening up and just playing ball."

The Harrisons noted how a conversation with their father helped them relax. The elder Harrison told his sons to forget about any larger implications and narrow their focus to each day's tasks. And, of course, support each other and their teammates.

"There's a lot of stresses with being there," the twins' father said. "One of the stresses is, 'Do I have to be a pro?' We don't care about that. With God-given talent, at some point, you'll get an opportunity. When it comes is when it comes.

"That was probably the whole part of the conversation."

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

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