When Aaron and Andrew Harrison approached Kentucky coach John Calipari with their decision to return to Lexington for their sophomore season, the UK boss had a simple message for the twins. A challenge of sorts. And a warning.
Don’t just come back. Come back better. It won’t be easy.
As the Wildcats prepared to embark on their Big Blue Bahamas exhibition trip this week, it sounds like that challenge was accepted.
“Well, the conversation we had was, if you put your name in the draft, I’m going to do everything I can to get you drafted in the best position possible,” Calipari said.
“And if you come back, there’s questions that you have to answer… And they went ‘One, two, three,’ and I said ‘OK, then you’ve got to answer those questions,’ and that’s what we’re going to do. You’re not coming back here just because it’s easiest. It might be the hardest thing for you to do.’”
Asked what those questions were, Calipari initially declined to get into specifics – “Those were between us sitting in that room” – but later revealed more of what he expected from the twins.
One had to do with their bodies. The other, largely, their body language.
“They’ve lost weight, so they’re more athletic, they’re playing faster, they’re able to sustain,” Calipari said. “The other thing is they already know what we’re trying to do. There’s no anxiety. They’re comfortable out on the court, where last year they were trying to figure themselves out, and that’s why you had that body language.
“So you don’t see any of that this year, and the only time they do anything like that is toward each other, like saying something to each other. Short of that, it’s been pretty good.”
The twins had a nice freshman campaign, statistically, averaging a combined 24.6 points per game in helping lead the Cats to the national championship game. But there were bumps – and hefty doses of criticism from all angles – along the way. Scouts informed them that they needed to be much better on the defensive end of the floor if they ever wanted to fulfill their professional dreams.
The Harrisons played last season in the 220-pound range. They’re both in the neighborhood of 210 now, and by all accounts, much quicker and explosive.
“Just trying to be the best player I can be,” Andrew Harrison said. “I feel a lot faster, a lot quicker, jump a little higher now. I feel like I’m the best player I can be right now.”
Aaron Harrison says it’s not just the physical aspect of the game he’s been working on.
“You just have to be mentally ready to practice each and every day,” he said. “You just go in and get better. That comes with getting older and being mature and just taking it more serious.”
When you’re Everybody’s All-American coming out of high school, it can be difficult to realize how difficult the transition to the college game can be. That’s something the twins both underestimated.
Now, with a different outlook, UK fans may see more of the swagger they expected early on last season, but may have taken until the end of the season to arrive.
“I think it was just us realizing how much work it actually takes to be great,” Andrew Harrison said. “Just realizing or just getting that confidence you had back in high school, just feeling like you’re the best player. That’s what it really was.”
Jeff Drummond, a former sports editor for the Harlan Daily Enterprise, is currently the publisher of AllWildcats.com on the Scout network. The site features comprehensive UK team and recruiting coverage.