UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky's Harrison twins accept, then embrace need to change

UK Coach John Calipari talked to guards Aaron (2) and Andrew Harrison (5) in February, before the twins found a winning rhythm in the NCAA Tournament en route to a runner-up finish. Aaron made three game-winners then, perhaps because he doesn't worry.
UK Coach John Calipari talked to guards Aaron (2) and Andrew Harrison (5) in February, before the twins found a winning rhythm in the NCAA Tournament en route to a runner-up finish. Aaron made three game-winners then, perhaps because he doesn't worry. Herald-Leader

Big plays. Big frowns.

Aaron and Andrew Harrison personified the duality that was Kentucky basketball last season. The twins loomed large in the highs (Aaron making three straight game-winning shots in the NCAA Tournament, Andrew making the much ballyhooed late-season "tweak" a success). Their much-lamented body language — grimaces, slumped shoulders, chins pressed against chests — spoke to a young team's struggle to handle the kind of adversity that comes during any season.

As preparation continues for a new season, there's talk of new Harrisons. Older. Slimmer. Perhaps most importantly, wiser.

Aaron now attributes last season's petulance to the adjustment from high school to college that all players must make. It was an over-reaction to setbacks, he suggested. Or, maybe more precisely, an outward sign of the frustration that comes with a lack of perspective.

"Coming out of high school, not being used to failing so much," he said before Wednesday's practice in advance of the team's trip to the Bahamas. "You have to get used to failing, and taking failing in stride."

Kentucky came through the frustrating moments as evidenced by the post-season run to the NCAA Tournament championship game.

"I think having fun changed my body language, definitely," Aaron said. "And I think it changed the whole team's body language."

UK Coach John Calipari pronounced the body language issue as settled. Speaking of recent workouts, he said, "The only time they do anything like that is toward each other."

Of course, Calipari figured in last season's change. James Young, the shooting guard on last season's team, noted how Calipari "chilled," which brought a sense of relief. The Harrisons' father, also named Aaron, said much the same thing.

When asked Wednesday about how his relationship with the twins had changed, Calipari touched on last season's transition from high school to college, and the hope of a future move from college to the NBA.

"They had habits they had to understand weren't going to work," the UK coach said. "If you're doing something your whole career, and it gets you a scholarship to Kentucky, the most coveted scholarship in the country," it's logical to resist change.

"This got me here," Calipari said in a player's voice. "I'm going to go with it. But a lot of times, what got you here might not get you there."

If the Harrisons needed confirmation of the need to change, it came as part of the build-up to the 2014 NBA Draft. There were no projections as lottery picks. Even first-round status seemed uncertain.

Calipari said he wanted to make sure a return to UK for a sophomore season was not a retreat to safety.

"You're not coming back here because it's the easiest thing," he said. "It may be the hardest thing."

Calipari put the twins' return in the context of improving in order to erase NBA questions. The UK coach declined to say what those questions were. But Aaron cited a few.

"Were we athletic enough?" he said. "Were we quick enough to guard our position?"

Aaron expressed confidence that he and his brother had worked diligently enough this off-season to ease any NBA person's mind.

The buzzword at UK's Craft Center on Wednesday was change.

"I had to change a lot, even down to my eating habits and how much sleep I get," Aaron said. "Just everything. Not just your game. You had to change your life (and) the way you live."

For instance, there have been fewer late-night trips for fast food. Hence, Aaron's weight is listed at 8 pounds lighter, Andrew 5 pounds lighter.

"More athletic," Calipari said of how the weight loss translates on the court. "Playing faster. They're able to sustain (effort)."

The biggest change would be winning the final game of the season. UK's loss to UConn in the NCAA Tournament finals seemed to be a spur.

"I just wanted to go out and win another championship," Aaron said before then realizing what he'd said. "Well, not another one. Try to win the championship."

Bahamas tickets stolen

Three hundred ticket booklets for Kentucky's Big Blue Bahamas tour were stolen in transit to the Bahamas, UK said Friday.

The booklets are numbered 1201 through 1500 and will be invalid for entry to all six exhibition games in the Bahamas to be played Aug. 10-17.

Fans who have already bought tickets will not be affected but those planning to buy tickets in the Bahamas are encouraged to be vigilant. Kendal Isaacs Gymnasium personnel have been informed of the stolen tickets and will not allow entry to anyone attempting to use tickets flagged as stolen.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader