UK Men's Basketball

Longhorns coach notes improvement he's seen in Harrison twins since they left Texas

Kentucky coach John Calipari talked to guards Aaron Harrison, left, and Andrew Harrison.
Kentucky coach John Calipari talked to guards Aaron Harrison, left, and Andrew Harrison. Herald-Leader

Texas Coach Rick Barnes has been watching Aaron and Andrew Harrison for years, first as highly regarded prospects in Richmond, Texas, and now as key players for Kentucky that his Longhorns must deal with Friday night in Rupp Arena.

Barnes sees a telling difference.

"John has really taught them (pause to find the precise word) winning," Barnes said of UK Coach John Calipari. "They can still use their talent and be really team players. It can be built around you, yet sometimes we have to play this way or that way. I think he's really taught them how to see the game."

Such improvement can be difficult, especially for players like the twins who enjoyed bountiful success prior to joining a college program.

"When you come out of high school as heralded as they were, when you're told over and over you're a can't-miss this, a can't-miss that, and for the first time, you have a coach who is relentless," Barnes said. "He's not going to give in to it. He's going to coach you. He's going to tell you the truth. He probably talked to (them) in a way in terms of telling you the truth, maybe like you never heard, and I see that. Where I see them grow and truly understand the team game."

Like all players, the twins find themselves in a never-ending process of improvement.

As point guard, Andrew is at the nerve center. He must weigh what's good for the team, individual teammates and himself on the fly. Not for the first time, Calipari noted how Andrew must look to score more at strategic moments.

"There are times in a game he just has to go get a bucket because we're dying," the UK coach said.

Then, as if trying to convince Andrew, Calipari noted how the sophomore is fully capable of scoring more.

"Andrew could get 20 (points) a game: scoring, shooting, free throws, layups," Calipari said. "But if he's our leading scorer, we're not winning. But there are games he must be our leading scorer. He has to feel it. It can't be me telling him."

Andrew's improvement as an on-ball defender has also been noted.

"I feel I'm a little better," he said before amending that statement. "I'm a whole lot better."

Andrew cited physical and mental reasons for the improvement.

"I'm in better shape," he said before adding, "Just focusing on it (and) caring about it a lot more."

Such care is rooted in long-term as well as short-term reasons.

"Just realized at the next level that's just as important as offense," he said. "You have to be able to guard your man. People look at that.

"And," he added, "knowing that will help our team."

A week or so ago, Calipari said he wanted Andrew to be a defensive playmaker. Steals, deflections and blocks are the pertinent statistics, Calipari said.

Through seven games, Andrew has 10 steals, or almost half the total of 21 he had last season.

"I feel I'm smart enough (and) I'm fast enough to get in some passing lanes and strip people while they're going into the lane and worrying about our big men blocking their shots," he said.

Any criticism about Andrew's defense last season should be directed at the coach, not the player, Calipari said. The cram-session learning process last season simply did not adequately cover defense.

"We literally never got to the point to teach him ... and show him how to be a defensive playmaker," Calipari said.

Aaron, who made a name for himself in UK lore by making winning shots in three straight NCAA Tournament games last spring, has not made a high percentage of shots so far this season. He's shooting with 36.6-percent accuracy (8-for-32 from three-point range). In so many words, he mimicked another Aaron (Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback) in telling fretful fans to r-e-l-a-x.

"They'll fall," he said of his shots. "I think they feel pretty good. A lot of them are going in and out, so they'll start falling."

Aaron noted the small sample size.

"It's a long season," he said. "I'll be fine. I'll find my rhythm and it'll be OK."

If anything, Calipari was blasé about Aaron's shooting, which includes 5-for-23 inaccuracy from three-point range the last four games.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "I'm not worrying about it. He'll probably need to spend a little more time in a gym."

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