UK Basketball: What has been the biggest change in Ryan Harrow's play?
Kentucky sophomore Ryan Harrow (12) has earned the trust of his teammates with his improved overall play and now coach John Calipari wants him to strive to be the nation¿s best point guard as UK gets set to open SEC play at Vanderbilt Thursday. (Clay Jackson / January 9, 2013)
Has it been his offense or his scoring? Has it been his defense, both on and off the ball? Has it been his leadership on and off the court?
“It’s all of that really,” teammate Julius Mays said. “He is really getting in the gym and getting his confidence up. It has been showing on the court. He has been putting a lot of extra work in and has been focusing on our team and not himself. He doesn’t care if he gets numbers. He just wants us to do well, and he knows we are a lot better when he is playing well and bringing energy.”
Harrow is averaging 9.0 points, 3.4 assists and 2.2 rebounds per game while shooting 41.3 percent from the field and 50 percent (8 for 16) at the foul line in nine games going into the Wildcats’ Southeastern Conference opener Thursday at Vanderbilt.
The sophomore has only nine turnovers in 214 minutes — one about every 24 minutes — despite having four in UK’s win last week over Eastern Michigan. He’s also second on the team in steals with 14.
“The team trusts him more now. He’s spending a lot of time around his teammates,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said Monday. “In practice, he’s one of our hardest workers now. He’s got a great attitude.”
Calipari noted that Harrow and Archie Goodwin have been doing their extra individual workouts with him before practice for 20 to 25 minutes. However, when other players work out after practice, Harrow has been staying, too.
“He stays in the gym (after) and cheers on the guys, just talks to them and encourages them. He’s become that guy that we needed him to be,” Calipari said. “But you’ve got to be around the team. You’ve got to be around them. You’ve got to be with them. They got to know you’re for them. Then they’ll follow. Then you can lead.
“Leading is not just walking out on the court and barking orders. Leadership is about service, and the only way you can serve others is to be around them. That’s what he’s been able to do, and I’m really proud of how far he’s come. My thing to him was: This is where we — as in I — thought you’d be at the beginning of the year. Now we’ve gotta build on this. Where do we go from here?”
Harrow was slated to be Kentucky’s floor leader and to take over the point from Marquis Teague, a 2012 first-round draft pick after his freshman year. However, he was sick when the Cats¿opened the season against Maryland and barely played, and he missed the next four games for personal reasons.
He slowly worked his way back into the starting point guard role that Goodwin had inherited during his absence. Proof that he was perhaps ready to emerge as a potent floor leader came in Kentucky’s loss at Louisville, when he had 17 points iand did not make a turnover against Louisville’s aggressive pressure.
“There was definitely pressure. I had never played against a defensive team that is that rugged and stuff like that,”¿Harrow said.
Considering Harrow’s ability to withstand the pressure of playing point guard for Calipari at Kentucky had been rumored to be the reason for his four-game absence, Harrow knew playing well at Louisville helped silence his critics.
“I was kind of nervous before the game, but when the ball goes up it is just basketball,”¿he said after the loss. “They bleed like we do. They tie their shoes just like we do. So it was just playing basketball and executing like coach Cal has us do in practice. It just didn’t turn out the way we wanted.
“Obviously, I am growing as a player and point guard because I¿am doing things I¿have never done before. But as I keep saying, I am not at the point I want to be at for the team. I¿think I play a big role for the team. I think I am playing well, but I think if I can play even better it will be better for all of us.”
That’s what Calipari is counting on from Harrow, who had 15 points and a career-high eight assists last week against Eastern Michigan.
“Why not try to be the best point guard in the country? Why not? Why would you not chase that? Why do anything short of that?” Calipari said. “The way he’s playing right now, the assist-to-turnover ratio, shooting percentage, all the stuff that we need him to do.
“And on top of that, defending pretty well, playing the ball screen better, staying in front of people, putting pressure on the point guard, helping his teammates when he’s away from the ball, all things that guy has to do to be able to lead, he’s doing.”
Mays says Harrow is a “different guy” and just needed time to adjust to his role even though he practiced all last season with the Cats after transferring from North Carolina State.
“He’s a playmaker, and when I first got here (in the summer) he was more fighting the way Coach wanted him to play and was trying to play the way he wanted to play,” Mays said. “But once he got into what Coach was trying to get him to do and he realized how good it makes him look and how good it makes our team look, it has been showing the last few games, and it is only going to get better.”
Mays said Harrow was more of a “break-a-guy-down” player than what Calipari wanted when the season started.
“I don’t think he was just trying to play for himself, but that’s how he has always played. Just breaking a guy down and doing what he does. I think Coach was wanting him to be that aggressive, energy bunny and just get crazy on defense,” Mays said. “At first, I don’t think he was understanding it. I don’t think it was so much he was fighting it, I just don’t think he was understanding. Once he got the understanding, he has been playing very well.”
Harrow, though, understands he’s ultimately going to be judged on how much Kentucky¿wins the next two months.
“We’re supposed to be the team making history and doing things and it’s kind of the other way around. We need to step up as a team and try to finish this season out strong, because it’s not like a Kentucky team to keep on losing,”¿he said after the Louisville loss. “Obviously, if we are not winning,¿I am not doing enough as a point guard.”