UK Men's Basketball

Tennessee game a resurgence for Harrellson

Kentucky's Josh Harrellson grabbed one of his 14 rebounds to go with 23 points against Louisville on Dec. 31. He had 16 points in his last game against Tennessee.
Kentucky's Josh Harrellson grabbed one of his 14 rebounds to go with 23 points against Louisville on Dec. 31. He had 16 points in his last game against Tennessee. ALL

When Kentucky played at Vanderbilt two years ago, then-UK coach Billy Gillispie made Josh Harrellson sit in a toilet stall at halftime and ride back to Lexington in the equipment truck.

That was the last game Harrellson started for Kentucky until this season.

Harrellson has come a long way, figuratively speaking, since that game in Nashville two years ago. But that doesn't mean he hasn't backslid, as churchgoers might put it, from time to time in this season of personal renewal.

Since his career day (23 points and 14 rebounds) at Louisville on New Year's Eve and a follow-up double-double against Penn three days later, Harrellson has cast a much smaller shadow. He made only 13 of 32 shots against Southeastern Conference opponents and failed to crack double digits in either points or rebounds in five straight games before UK played Tennessee Tuesday.

"For two weeks, he was 'BSing,' " UK Coach John Calipari said of Harrellson's poor practice habits recently.

Harrellson had two great practices leading into the Tennessee game. Not so coincidentally, he then hit the Vols for 16 points — a career SEC high and only the second time he'd reached double figures in league play. He also grabbed six rebounds, got credit for two assists and made two steals.

"Look, there's one person you cannot fool: yourself," Calipari said after the game. " ... You can fool everybody else.

"If you go through the motions in practice and act like it's this, (it's) that, when you get in the game, the first raindrop hits your back, you know what's about to happen. If you work your butt off and the raindrop hits you, you're, like, I'm not worried about that."

Harrellson, who hadn't scored double-digit points in eight games, found it difficult to explain why he had not been playing well. When Calipari said that Harrellson had "reverted" in a game earlier this season, the big man from St. Charles, Mo., seemed to take it as a personal afront. He voiced determination to show the UK coach he was wrong.

So why would Harrellson reduce himself to, as Calipari put it, "BSing" in practice?

"Just not doing what I had been doing," he said after the Tennessee game. "Not being the garbage man. Not doing the little stuff the team needs me to do. Sort of went through the motions. Stopped playing as hard as I have been playing."

When asked after the Tennessee game why this happened, Harrellson sounded puzzled. "Maybe a couple good games, I don't know," he said, seeming to suggest he relaxed or got content. "But tonight I just tried to get that mentality out of my head (and) get back to the old me and the way I have to accept playing."

At a news conference Thursday, Calipari noted how Harrellson committed to running the floor when the team did a bit of soul searching at the coach's home on Super Bowl Sunday.

While not necessarily referring to Harrellson, Calipari said players can be thrown off by success.

"A lot of times, guys are a little bit afraid of success," the UK coach said. "Scary. Anxiety. You mean I have to do this every game? That means I have to prepare. I can't go out (to socialize). I've got to get my rest. Eat right."

Whatever the reason for Harrellson's dip in productivity, he all but pledged to give maximum effort going forward.

"It's my last year," he said. "I'm just going to leave it all out there the rest of the year."

Happy birthday

When Calipari arrived for a news conference, he saw more than the usual gaggle of reporters. There was also a 6-foot tall birthday card standing to the left of the podium.

He turned 52 on Thursday.

Calipari spoke of the good fortune he's experienced, including becoming Kentucky coach in 2009.

"I'm blessed," he said.

A friend recently asked him if the demands of the Kentucky job make a coach age two years every 12 months, he said.

"It's dog years," Calipari said with a smile. "Seven to one."

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