UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky's Calipari stands up for Andrew Harrison: 'He's my point guard'

Kentucky coach John Calipari sent guard Andrew Harrison to the bench for watching a replay instead of getting back on defense.
Kentucky coach John Calipari sent guard Andrew Harrison to the bench for watching a replay instead of getting back on defense. Herald-Leader

When asked about the most recent round of criticism directed his way, Kentucky point guard — and lightning rod — Andrew Harrison waxed philosophical.

"I'm used to it," he said matter-of-factly. "You play at Kentucky. One bad game, you're the worst player in the world. You play a good game and you're the best player in the world."

After his six turnovers at Louisville on Dec. 27, Harrison was the worst player in the world, according to some precincts of the Big Blue Nation with access to the Internet. After his steady floor game against Ole Miss (five assists, one turnover in 32 minutes) and big three-pointer in overtime helped UK win, he spoke in measured tones about a poor performance and the reaction (over-reaction?) to it.

"You just have to move on from it," he said. "You just have to realize people say that stuff who don't really know anything about your basketball team. So you can't really worry about it."

His brother, Aaron, was more pointed.

"People say stupid stuff about him all the time," Aaron Harrison said. "I knew he was going to respond well because he always does. He's been dealing with that all his career. People talking, it doesn't really matter and it doesn't make any sense."

When asked about Andrew Harrison during a news conference Thursday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari voiced a staunch defense. He, too, noted how playing for Kentucky causes wild swings of reaction to the good and bad.

"He's at Kentucky, which means he goes one for eight, 'He stinks,'" Calipari said. "He went eight of nine, 'He may stink. Let's see the next game.'

"What?!"

In so many words, Calipari repeated something he's said repeatedly during his six seasons as UK coach: Kentucky isn't for everyone.

"You've got to be a strong-willed strong soul," he said. "And that isn't easy."

In defense of Andrew Harrison, Calipari said, "I think he's as good a point guard as there is in the country."

Even if critics accept that appraisal, the problem is that's not how Calipari point guards are judged.

Besides the unsolicited input from ever-frantic Kentucky fans, Andrew Harrison must deal with inevitable comparisons to the many standout point guards to play for Calipari: Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague.

Andrew Harrison's sin might be that he's merely good.

"He has up-and-down games like any other player," Calipari said.

Calipari noted how Harrison can improve. The UK coach said he wanted Harrison to play faster and with more energy.

"He's capable of that," Calipari said. "Be more aggressive. Get in the lane! No one's stopping you from flying up and down."

Calipari suggested Harrison still was transitioning his style of play. As a McDonald's All-American in high school, Harrison could "jog" and "bully" his way around the court, the UK coach said. "Can't play that way anymore."

As a UK player, Harrison must take advantage of smaller defenders by getting in the lane and shooting over them or lobbing passes over them, Calipari said.

Raising his left hand ever higher, Calipari said that Andrew Harrison has improved his on-court body language and comportment from the beginning of last season to UK's exciting Final Four run to this season's 14-0 start.

"He's not through the roof yet," Calipari said, "but he will be."

Then there's the presence of freshman Tyler Ulis, who has shot better than Andrew Harrison (48.1 percent to 36 percent), posted a better assist-to-turnover ratio (48-13 to 59-30) and captured the fans' imagination with David-felling-Goliath fearlessness. But, as the Ole Miss game showed, Ulis has improving to do, too.

Coincidentally, Andrew Harrison can be compared to arguably the greatest of the great Calipari point guards in one interesting respect. At the SEC Media Days in October, Calipari noted how Andrew cares too much (and finds it difficult to roll with the game's punches?) while Aaron needed to care more.

"Derrick Rose cared too much the same way," Calipari said Thursday. "He could not deal with anything that wasn't perfection."

Calipari reminded reporters that criticism is something high school stars seldom, if ever, hear. Calipari said he would prefer to take the criticism UK fans and others might voice.

"I'm old," he said. "I've been killed. You shoot me, it goes through a bazooka hole. I can take it.

"These guys, this is the first time anybody's ever questioned them as a player or as a person, their character."

Calipari vouched for Andrew Harrison's character.

"Andrew's one of the greatest kids I've ever coached ... and that's why I'm always going to be with him," the UK coach said. "He's for the team. He wants to get better. This is all new to him.

"I'm with him. He's my point guard."

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