As another Kentucky team hacks its way through the thicket of overwrought fans, coaches and media, Ryan Harrow has found contentment at Georgia State.
Harrow seemed at times like a tortured soul in his one season at Kentucky. He even took a leave of absence to find his bearings. As John Calipari notes, UK basketball isn't for everyone.
"Everything's going pretty good," Harrow said in a telephone interview Friday. "I'm having a good time here. And I'm happy (slight pause to find the right words) to be part of this team and just happy to be home."
Harrow grew up in nearby Marietta, Ga. He's only about a 10-minute drive from his father, Mark Harrow, who is recovering from a stroke. Each Sunday, he visits his father. They usually watch movies.
To be near his father is a reason Harrow transferred to Georgia State. It's also one of the reasons for his happiness.
There's another reason. "Just keeping a better mindset nowadays," he said. "I've just matured a lot from all the situations I've been in. From North Carolina State to Kentucky to now. I don't let too many outside interferences bother me."
Harrow was supposed to be Calipari's next star point guard. An ESPN All-Access show in the pre-season showed that the birth of such stars comes in a stellar blast furnace. Harrow complained openly about what he saw as the coach's hectoring.
Looking back, Harrow claimed a new-found appreciation for the high-volume instruction.
"I learned not to take everything to heart," he said, "and everybody has my best interests (in mind). It helped me grow mentally."
Calipari called him after Georgia State's first exhibition game. As Harrow recalled, Calipari said he was proud of how the former UK player had performed. Calipari offered words of encouragement.
"We still have a good relationship," Harrow said.
Maybe Kentucky just wasn't the right place.
"I don't think I did terrible at Kentucky," Harrow said with a chuckle. "I appreciate the time I had there. I had my opportunities there. It didn't go the way I wanted it to."
All is going well for Harrow at Georgia State. Through two games, he's averaging 23.5 points. He's got 10 assists and only two turnovers.
At Vanderbilt on Tuesday, he made 10 of 21 shots and scored 27 points. Vandy won 86-80.
After the game, Harrow acknowledged wanting to make amends for a poor performance against Vandy in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last March: scoring four points on 2-for-15 shooting, one assist and four turnovers as the Commodores snuffed out Kentucky's NCAA Tournament chances.
"My competitive juices were going since the summertime when I saw this game on the schedule," Harrow said, according to Jeff Lockridge's blog for The Tennessean.
Among his former UK teammates, Harrow keeps in closest contact with Nerlens Noel (his roommate at UK last season) and Willie Cauley-Stein (a soulmate in coping with being a Wildcat).
Harrow continues to follow UK basketball, if not as a rabid fan then a well-informed observer.
"You're going to see it anyway," he said. "It's all over ESPN. They're always going to have a pretty good team."
Syracuse tops UK?
Sportswriter Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard noted last week that the Orange will threaten UK's near monopoly in being king of attendance.
Kentucky has led the nation in average home attendance 17 of the last 18 seasons. But, Waters wrote, Syracuse "might have already sewn up this year's attendance title before the season had even started."
Syracuse, which has finished second to UK 14 times, has sold almost 21,000 season-ticket packages for this season, Waters reported. The move to the Atlantic Coast Conference means home games with Duke and North Carolina. Plus, the non-conference schedule includes home games against Indiana and Villanova.
Syracuse's opener against Cornell drew a crowd of 24,788. That was the Orange's largest opening-game crowd since the 1990-91 season. By comparison, last season's home opener against Fordham drew a crowd of 17,273.
In leading the nation last season, Kentucky averaged 23,099.
Attendance Part II
Gary Johnson, the NCAA's head statistician for men's basketball, noted that overall attendance in Division I has decreased in each of the last six seasons.
That sounds alarming. And it could be cited to support the contention that the game is less appealing. With scoring down, it's a good idea to have the referees call more fouls in hopes of lessening physical play and increase scoring.
Except a deeper look at the numbers suggests the game isn't less popular.
In the 1980-81 season, the average attendance at a Division I game was 5,131. In 2012-13, the average attendance was 5,129. That's only two fewer people in attendance per game.
Of course, a counter argument could be made based on the fact that there were 81 more Division I teams in that span: 264 to 345. Many of the newbies play in smaller arenas.
So is there an overreaction to the assumption that reduced scoring is hurting the game's popularity?
Because he's a UK graduate and lives in Lexington, referee John Hampton cannot call Kentucky games. The appearance of conflict of interest is too strong.
Knowing that Hampton would enjoy being part of the UK-Transylvania exhibition, Transy Coach Brian Lane told the SEC that he'd like to see Hampton work the game.
Lane and Hampton are not longtime pals or former fraternity brothers. Although Hampton's children have attended Lane's summer basketball camps. Hampton simply considered it a nice gesture.
The next time a coach laments his team's lack of aggressiveness, the mind will drift to Frank Deford's sports commentary on National Public Radio last week.
Deford noted how football celebrates players who are "uber macho," "mean" and "insensitive."
These traits are not seen as so pure a distillation of, say, baseball and basketball, which no one suggests can make a player more manly.
The ongoing controversy involving Miami Dolphins' linemen Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin moved Deford to observe that participation in football is down 13 percent in the last two years, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.
"Modern football is so violent, even thuggish, that it can damage your soul as well as your brain," Deford said. "How many more parents will keep their sons out of the football locker room under the assumption that there are better ways to learn to be manly?"
UK's 44-32 rebound advantage over Michigan State moved John Calipari to observe, "I'd like to know the last time a Michigan State team was out-rebounded like that."
Glad you asked.
In the 2012 Big Ten Tournament finals, Ohio State out-rebounded Michigan State by 13. State won 68-64.
I want my MTV
The hit of UK's Big Blue Madness was the video boards hovering over center court. The screens were two and one-half times larger than the video boards in the corners of Rupp Arena, yet they weighed the same as those screens, said Bill Owen, CEO and president of Lexington Center Corp.
This Madness Television — video screens over center court — would be a great feature for games. It might have seemed the boards hung too close to the court. Actually, the NCAA requires any hanging object to be at least 25 feet above the court. The video screens were 25 feet and 9 inches above the Rupp court, UK Senior Associate Director of Athletics Jason Schlafer said.
So why aren't the video boards used during home games this season? Owen explained by noting:
■ Weight. For Madness, the large sound system over center court was taken down and the video screens hung in its place. That meant removing 12,000 pounds and hanging 10,000 pounds. The combined 22,000 pounds is too heavy.
■ Expense. To hang the video screens alone would mean installing a replacement sound system. That would cost about $1 million.
■ Timing. With the on-going discussions about a "re-invented" Rupp Arena, the timing isn't right for a significant change. If Rupp is re-invented, it can include a hanging scoreboard/video screens over center court. Or not.
That's "part of the puzzle" being discussed by city leaders and planners, Owen said.
John Calipari's comment about how it was "no fair" for his Kiddie Cats to play a veteran team like Michigan State so early this season stirred much good-natured teasing. It would have been better to simply say UK's freshman-oriented team was at a disadvantage.
But reader Ernest Henninger of Harrodsburg noted how a no-fair lament carries an unfortunate implication.
Wrote Henninger in an email, "The notion that it's not fair to play a game you might lose turns the whole meaning of sports into a travesty."
'Hoops for St. Jude'
Former UK player and later assistant coach Dwane Casey did a good deed last week. Now coach of the Toronto Raptors, he accompanied some of his players on a visit to patients at the Memphis-based St. Jude Children's Research Hospital on Tuesday.
The patient time was part of a campaign called Hoops for St. Jude, which is a continuing partnership between the charity NBA Cares and the hospital.
Casey and the team visited St. Jude during an off day before a game with the Grizzlies.
UNC Wilmington played at Iowa on Nov. 8. Two days later, the Seahawks played at Iowa State.
UNC Wilmington lost those games by an average margin of 38 points, made a combined 25.7 percent of its shots (35 of 136) and 17.9 percent of its three-point attempts (seven of 39).
But in the context of so-called guarantee games, it was a successful trip.
"Big cash weekend for us," Coach Buzz Peterson said on the eve of the trip. "If you need any money, let us know."
To Rupp Runt Louie Dampier. He turns 69 on Wednesday. ... To Twany Beckham. He turned 25 on Thursday. ... To former Auburn coach Sonny Smith. He turned 77 on Friday. ... To Bret Bearup. He turns 52 Sunday. ... To Alex Legion. He turned 25 on Saturday. ... To A.J. Stewart. He turned 25 on Thursday.