UK basketball notes: Aaron Harrison eager to expand his repertoire

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 10, 2014 

NASSAU, Bahamas — Aaron Harrison wants to be more than just another pretty face-the-basket shooter. It was a grittier Aaron Harrison who contributed to Kentucky's 74-49 victory over reserves for the Puerto Rican National Team on Sunday.

Harrison drove to an emphatic dunk early in the game. Throughout the opener to UK's series of exhibitions here, he played spirited defense.

"I tried in the offseason to get stronger and be a better finisher," he said. "I worked on my body."

Harrison, who made a place for himself in program lore by winning three straight NCAA Tournament games with jumpers in the final seconds, wants to be a "presence" even when the jump shots are not swishing.

"One of the things he wants to do ... 'I don't want to ever evaporate on the court,'" UK Coach John Calipari said of Harrison's intentions this coming season. "'I want to be a presence on the court whether I'm scoring or not.' ...

"You saw him pressuring the ball today. Going up and playing."

Calipari noted how Harrison grabbed a rebound in traffic.

"You saw him fighting in there," the UK coach said. "That's when you have a presence on the court."

'Like it's a gnat'

Freshman Tyler Ulis only made one of five shots, but he had UK fans buzzing. Maybe because of his team-high five assists, three rebounds and go-at-'em game.

"Pushed the ball," Calipari said. "He really pushed the ball and found his teammates."

Calipari lauded the wearing effect of Ulis' willingness to play aggressive defense.

"He put great pressure on the ball handler," the UK coach said. "And in the second half, the guy, it's just like it's a gnat. Now, all of a sudden, you let him steal one."

Ulis represents a new dimension, which, of course, isn't height given that he's 5-foot-9.

"It changes the dynamic of our team right now," Calipari said, "because we didn't have that (last season)."

Foul trouble or poor play from guards meant trouble for Kentucky in 2013-14.

"Now, all of a sudden, it's a different thing," Calipari said. "It's a different dynamic for us. He was good. He was really good."

Platoons?

Almost exclusively, Calipari made five-man mass substitutions. The UK coach said he'd probably continue subbing five for five in future exhibitions here.

Alex Poythress liked that idea. "Because you can go as hard as you can," he said. "... You can go all out."

Aaron Harrison said UK was capable of using mass substitutions next season.

"We can do it," he said before adding, "Not many teams, college or pro, can say they have 10 guys who can actually be on the floor.

"We're a special team. If coach decides to do it, I think it wouldn't be a bad thing."

Cal pleased

Sunday's victory made Calipari sound awfully close to satisfied, a place most coaches resist by reflex.

"I'm pleased," he said before repeating himself. "I'm pleased. ... We did what we wanted to do."

Calipari noted how UK pleased him in two areas elemental to winning basketball: pressuring the ball on defense and sharing it on offense.

"Loved the fact we were passing the ball to each other and making the extra passes," he said. "... Our ball pressure was great."

The willingness to pass stood out when Andrew Harrison made fans gasp with a move that left a Puerto Rican defender fighting to maintain his balance. Harrison could have made a layup. Instead his pass netted Poythress a dunk.

Etc.

An award for adaptability goes to Tim Asher, the program's video coordinator. To shoot video of the exhibition in a gym with limited power outlets, he bought a 100-foot extension cord here Saturday night. He plugged in his camera at the top of the bleachers and recorded the game. ... Three Kentuckians will officiate all six of UK's games. The three referees are Bart Lenox and brothers John and Brent Hampton.

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

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