UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: For Harrison twins, keeping mirror-image numbers a must

Kentucky's Aaron Harrison (2) left and his brother Andrew, looked on during a break in the Big Blue Madness action Friday.
Kentucky's Aaron Harrison (2) left and his brother Andrew, looked on during a break in the Big Blue Madness action Friday. Herald-Leader

Eagle-eyed Kentucky fans (are there any other kind?) will notice that senior Jarrod Polson wears No. 3 this season. His former number, No. 5, now belongs to another UK point guard, freshman Andrew Harrison.

Ironically, a possible confusion about numbers played a part in how Harrison and his twin brother, Aaron, came to wear Nos. 5 and 2, respectively.

When a reporter noted that Nos. 5 and 2 are almost mirror images of each other, father Aaron Harrison Sr. said he had that very strategic reason in mind when he encouraged his identical twin sons to wear those numbers since grade school.

"I thought they'd mess one defender up," he said.

In the third or fourth grade (the father couldn't remember exactly which), Aaron picked No. 2 as his number. He's worn it ever since, with the exception of one season in high school.

The father urged Andrew to wear No. 5.

"He wasn't sold on that number," the elder Harrison said. "I said, 'Don't worry about it, son. They look like each other. People get confused. You might get an extra bucket somewhere.'"

The father chuckled when asked if he recalled the numbers tricking a defender.

"Oh, no," he said. "I really don't. They do mirror each other. Maybe someday it'll work."

Of course, athletes can grow sentimentally attached to numbers. A uniform number can become my number, personal property to be carried from team to team and season to season.

Andrew Harrison acknowledged feeling that way about No. 5. "Yeah, a little bit," he said. "(No. 5) is just the number I've always had growing up."

Polson had a similar attachment to No. 5, the number he said he'd worn since middle school. He admitted being annoyed by having to change numbers going into his senior season.

"I was at first," he said. "Then I thought about it. 'Wow. I'm getting worked up over this.'

"People see me as No. 5. But, I mean, honestly, by the end of the day, I was, wow, it's just a number. I'm not going to get torn up over a little number. It wasn't a big deal to me."

The trip he and other selected UK athletes took to Ethiopia last summer helped Polson put uniform numbers into non-athletic perspective. Abject poverty trivializes a player's affection for a number.

"Just realizing, 'Wow, I'm fretting over a number and they're fretting over where they're going to get their next meal,'" he said. "That was big."

Donovan 31, Rupp 30

Former UK athletics director C.M. Newton played for Adolph Rupp. He recommended Billy Donovan when Florida A.D. Jeremy Foley was looking for a new coach. So Newton was a good person to ask about Donovan surpassing Rupp as the SEC's winningest coach in NCAA Tournament history.

Donovan now has 31 victories to Rupp's 30.

"I never had any question that Billy was going to be successful in whatever he chose to do," Newton told the Gainesville Sun at SEC Media Days. "When he really decided to be a head coach, I was very anxious to help him."

Now 48, Donovan is the dean of SEC coaches.

When asked what made him so sure Donovan would be successful, Newton cited several factors.

"His intelligence, his work ethic, his discipline, both self and exterior discipline," Newton said. "All of the things that you expect in a coach, he possessed. Billy was very innovative. He took the best of what (Rick) Pitino did and made it his own."

How low can you go

About a month ago, Gary Parrish of CBS Sports reported that rival recruiters were trying to persuade a prospect to steer clear of Texas A&M because Coach Billy Kennedy had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

This seemed like a low blow even for coaches, who publicly abhor so-called negative recruiting but apparently are willing to say anything to succeed.

"Recruiting is recruiting," Kennedy said at the SEC Media Days in trying to downplay the story. " ... You've got people who are going to do what they're going to do."

Kennedy recalled advice he received as a 20-year-old novice from then Auburn Coach Sonny Smith.

"Sonny Smith said all's fair in love, war and recruiting," he said. " ... There's a lot of truth to that."

Rules changes

Much discussion at SEC Media Days centered on referees most likely calling more fouls this season in an effort to reduce physical play and increase scoring. Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings only asked that the games be called the same in March as they are in November.

If there's consistency, coaches and players will adapt. But it might be a painful process.

"Yes, there will be games that look like train wrecks in November and December," he said.

Missouri's aptly named Keanau Post, a 6-11 junior college transfer, learned how the games could be called more tightly. He had eight fouls in a scrimmage Tuesday.

Post flirted with a triple-double, Coach Frank Haith quipped.

Polarizing player

Ole Miss guardMarshall Hendersonis one of the most polarizing players in memory. Love him or loathe him, you can't ignore him.

Henderson is practicing while serving an indefinite suspension. Despite that, Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy found it difficult to believe Henderson would not make the pre-season all-SEC first team as voted by the media.

"If he wasn't voted first team, maybe we should check your credential," Kennedy said to a reporter while I clinched my credential a little tighter.

ESPN college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes acknowledged his mixed feelings about Henderson. He said that 70 percent of what Henderson does is great for college basketball. "Thirty percent I don't agree with," Dykes said.

On the plus side, Henderson put Ole Miss on the college basketball map and in the NCAA Tournament while showcasing the sport's most elemental skill: shooting.

On the minus side, Henderson veered wildly away from accepted standards of behavior, including obscene gestures at fans.

Dykes likened coaching Henderson to riding a bull.

"You try to stay on that dude for eight seconds," he said. "(Henderson) is very smart. He just needs to grow up in some areas."

MKG works on m-i-s-s-e-s

If you thought Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn't play like a No. 2 overall pick last season, you're not alone. Kidd-Gilchrist didn't think so, either.

Kidd-Gilchrist, a key player for UK's 2012 national championship team, acknowledges the disappointment of his rookie season. He averaged 9.0 points and 5.8 rebounds. Not bad, but nothing to put him contention for NBA Rookie of the Year.

"I was disappointed in myself," Kidd-Gilchrist said at the Bobcats' media day earlier this month. "It wasn't the losses. I like all my teammates and we bonded a lot. I was mad at myself. I set goals and I didn't reach any of the goals that I set. All my life I did that and last year I didn't reach one goal."

Kidd-Gilchrist set the goal of being Rookie of the Year. He didn't even make the NBA's all-rookie first team.

Kidd-Gilchrist has been working on his perimeter shooting, one of his most noticeable shortcomings last season. After not shooting well in a Las Vegas-based summer league, he began working on his shot with Bobcats assistant coach Mark Price. A sharpshooter for Georgia Tech and then in the NBA, Price looked to improve MKG's footwork and "fix" a hitch in the delivery and an occasional case of side-spin.

"He started with my footwork and from there it was just shooting the ball a lot," Kidd-Gilchrist told the Charlotte Observer. "I'm ready to shoot it at all times."

No surprise that MKG has diligently worked on his shooting. "I'm committed to him and he's committed to me," he said of the work with Price.

Through five games of this NBA pre-season, Kidd-Gilchrist has made only 32.1 percent of his shots and 55.6 percent of his free throws.

Patience, please

Auburn Coach Tony Barbee asked fans to be patient. That was in response to a question about the Tigers losing 16 of the last 17 games of the 2012-13 season.

When asked what he'd say to Auburn fans, Barbee said, "Just to remain patient. I think this is a team that will make everybody proud."

Auburn has seven new players this season.

Auburn tried to pump up enthuisasm at Midnight Madness. The rapper Ludacris and actor Mike Epps made appearances before a crowd Auburn announced as 7,300.

"For a team that struggled as much as we did, we have a lot of momentum," Barbee said.

Show me

Missouri is the Show Me State. But judging by SEC Media Days, several states in the league's territory could claim that nickname.

That was a common theme heard when players were asked about a UK freshman class that includes six McDonald's All-Americans.

"Doesn't really matter to me," LSU forward Johnny O'Bryant said. "When you step on the floor, we're all SEC basketball players. You still have to hold your own."

Fully hyphenated

There's been a subtle name change at Texas A&M.

One of the guards last season was named J'Mychal Reese. He's back on this season's team, but now he's listed as J-Mychal Reese.

Spokesman Adam Quisenberry explained the switch from apostrophe to hyphen. Last season's spelling was "just a typo" that carried over from when the player originally signed with A&M.

"Lived on until he finally spoke up toward the end of last season," Quisenberry wrote in an email message.

50th anniversary

The 50th anniversary of one of college basketball's most significant games is fast approaching. In 2016, it will have been 50 years since Kentucky lost to Texas Western in the 1966 national championship game.

That game blew away one facet of racial prejudice that contended that an all-black lineup could not win at the highest level. Then-Texas Western coach Don Haskins used only black players in the victory over all-white Kentucky.

UK is exploring a way to mark the anniversary. Former Rupp Runt Larry Conley said that UK would like to play Texas Western, now known as UTEP, to mark the occasion.

Happy birthday

To Kyle Wiltjer. He turns 21 today. ... To former UK football coach Bill Curry. He turns 71 on Monday.

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