Mark Story: Aaron Harrison's cool hand in the clutch stems from lesson learned in high school

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 6, 2014 

ARLINGTON, Texas — John Calipari says the key that has allowed Aaron Harrison to shock and awe the basketball world with a three-contest binge of NCAA Tournament game-winning shooting is that the Kentucky freshman guard knows he can handle it if those shots don't go in.

"He's not afraid to miss," Calipari said. "He's OK with (the prospect of missing). He's comfortable in his own skin."

If that is true, then the lesson that allowed Harrison to hit the stone-cold three-pointers that have propelled No. 8 seed UK (29-10) into a most unlikely NCAA championship game with No. 7 seed Connecticut (31-8) was learned when he was a high school sophomore.

Harrison's Travis High School was playing in the finals of the Outback Steak House Tournament in Sugar Land, Texas. "It came down to the last shot, and Aaron missed from deep, deep in the corner," Travis coach Craig Brownson recalled Sunday morning.

"Aaron was really upset; when we were supposed to accept our (runner-up) awards, he was sitting on the bench with his head down. I remember telling him, 'Aaron, this is just a lesson to prepare you for the many big shots you will take and make in your career.'"

It's hard to imagine that any player has ever hit three bigger shots in a single NCAA tourney than:

1.) The three Harrison buried from deep in the left corner with 39 seconds left to put UK ahead of archrival Louisville for good in what became a 74-69 round of 16 win.

2.) The contested trey Harrison buried from the left wing with 2.3 seconds that beat Michigan 75-72 and sent Kentucky to the Final Four.

3.) An even deeper, very challenged three-pointer that Harrison rattled in with 5.7 seconds left to push Kentucky past Wisconsin 74-73 in the national semifinals.

If you wonder what it's like for a family when your child's hoops heroics become the national story line of an NCAA tournament, Aaron Harrison Sr. said that by the wee hours of Sunday morning — after his son's Badger beater — he had more than 300 text messages.

According to the Harrison family narrative one often sees in the press, Marian Harrison, the mother of Aaron and his twin and UK backcourt mate, Andrew, is not especially interested in basketball.

"This, it's been pretty exciting for her," Aaron Harrison Sr. said of Aaron's buzzer-beating and UK's tournament run.

When Aaron Harrison's three-pointer from some 25 feet out over the outstretched hand of Wisconsin defensive ace Josh Gasser rattled home, Brownson said, there were some 12 people from Travis High School in the record crowd (for men's college hoops) of 79,444 that filled AT&T Stadium.

The last minute of UK-Wisconsin had been a roller coaster for the Travis coach. With the game tied, Andrew Harrison took a questionable three-point shot with 50 seconds left that missed badly. He then fouled Wisconsin's Traevon Jackson on a three-point attempt with 16.7 seconds left.

"I was just sick to my stomach over what happened with Andrew," Brownson said. "I knew, knowing Drew, he would internalize all that. I felt really bad for him."

Yet instead of Andrew ending up as an NCAA tourney fall guy in a gut-wrenching UK loss, his brother added yet another chapter to his growing legend as ice-cold clutch shooter.

When the Cats face UConn Monday about 9:10 p.m. to seek Kentucky's ninth NCAA title, Brownson said, there might be as many as 18 people with connections to Travis High in the stands.

The reason, he said, is best explained in a story.

Last season, on the day before Travis left to play for the state championship, the coach's mother died. The next week, there was no school at Travis because of spring break.

"Yet the twins showed up at my mom's funeral anyway," he said. "What people don't see with them, they're really good kids. That's why so many people (from Travis) traveled up (from the Houston area) to see them."

On Sunday, a reporter told Aaron Harrison the younger that he'd heard via Twitter from at least six Kentucky fans vowing to name their first-born child Aaron.

"That's just crazy," the UK guard said, shaking his head. "But, knowing Kentucky fans, it doesn't surprise me."

Wouldn't it be something if Aaron Harrison, the guy who learned young that you could live through missing a game-winning shot, had one more last-second make left to put the exclamation point on a tournament run for the ages?

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

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