No tweaks needed for Twins as
Cats’ become favorites for title nine.
By KENNY COLSTON
PHOTOS BY WALTER CORNETT
The terms may change, but the goal remains the same.
Gone are tweaks and 40-0. The incoming phrases of the year are platoons and swagger. The goal no matter what: A national championship for the men’s basketball team at the University of Kentucky.
But for all the fanfare around Karl-Anthony Towns, the make-up of the platoons and more, the real key to the 2014-15 basketball team is still flying under the radar.
Sure, having productive juniors in Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress is helpful. But they aren’t it. The No. 2-ranked recruiting class in the nation coming to Lexington? Promising, but it’s been done before.
A slim Dakari Johnson, an improved Marcus Lee and the best No. 11 and No. 12 guy in the nation (Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis) off the bench… it all sounds fantastic.
But the key to Kentucky’s ninth national championship isn’t any of the above. It’s two twin brothers that have been as polarizing as any in their 14 months in Lexington: Andrew and Aaron Harrison.
Beloved now, the Harrison twins haven’t always been fan favorites.
For those who forgot, from November to February of last season, Andrew Harrison wasn’t one of the more beloved point guards in Calipari’s history. He wasn’t quite Ryan Harrow, but he was making Marquis Teague look good to Kentucky fans.
He was roundly criticized and the Cats faltered, multiple times, after everyone thought the team wouldn’t lose a game all year. But the turning point came with a “tweak” that led the Cats to the national championship game.
That tweak? Well, if you haven’t heard it yet, Calipari took to CBS to explain it months ago.
“I was trying to make the game easier for Andrew Harrison, my point guard,” Calipari told Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning. “I got tapes of Deron Williams, who averaged nine assists throughout his career in the NBA. We had a game where he had 11 assists and I showed Andrew and I said, ‘Look at this. Let’s watch. Would you have passed or shot?’ ”
The point was, Andrew would have shot. Cal wanted him to pass. In the post-season, Cal’s mentality finally won out and so did the Cats (nearly).
Aaron on the other hand, was almost guilty by association. Pegged as the lesser talent of the two brothers before he entered the season, Aaron shot the ball a little better than his twin, but not by much, until March rolled around.
Now, the deuce has gone into the history books, hitting three huge shots to consistently advance Kentucky to the title game.
But that’s the past. Going 12-deep this season, few talk about the Harrison’s struggles. The focus is on three 7-footers in the paint, Tyler Ulis as a backup point guard, the pure talent assembled in Lexington being the best ever.
It’s Kentucky’s title to lose this year, if you haven’t noticed.
But while everyone is focused on everything but, the Harrison twins will be the driving force if Kentucky is to meet expectations and cut down the nets in Indianapolis this year.
There’s not been one drop of ink focusing on it, but amongst the platoon shuffling, only two players are cemented with the starters: Andrew and Aaron Harrison.
Two guys made the final (joint) entrance at Blue Big Madness. Two guys are the leaders of this team. Two guys no longer need tweaks or coaching mind games to be their best. They just need a basketball.
Having already played one exhibition, against the University of Pikeville, it was Andrew who got the first praise from his coach. With a team-high nine assists, the point guard twin got high marks from Calipari.
“I thought Andrew (Harrison) was ridiculous,” Calipari told reporters after the game. “… He wanted 10 assists…and he had nine assists, and I’m guessing four hockey assists. In other words, he threw it ahead quick enough for that I could throw it for a pass. So he was outstanding today.”
Not everyone is yet on board the idea that the Harrison’s are the true cog to Calipari’s platoon plans, to his quest for another national championship.
National writers have spent a lot of ink trashing the twins, especially after their return.
“The headline is ‘[Rejected by the NBA], Harrison twins [begrudgingly] return to Kentucky,’ ” USA Today’s Dan Shanoff wrote in April. Some fans are dying to see Ulis start over Andrew Harrison, after the former showcased his skills on the Big Blue Bahamas trip.
But as the haters continue to trash the twins, wins will stack up and minds will be changed.
Come April 2015, with a national championship above their head, writers will likely pick another headline for this squad: Twinning.