He wasn’t on the court to help Kentucky win the national championship last season, but Ryan Harrow found a special use for his championship ring.
“I actually gave my ring to my dad, because he had some illness over the summer and I¿knew that giving the ring to him would make him happy. He’s doing good now, so that ring went to the right place,” said Harrow, a sophomore guard who had to sit out last season after transferring from North Carolina State.
Harrow was in New Orleans for the Final Four and sat with his mother while watching Kentucky beat Louisville and Kansas.
“It was crazy to watch the Final Four, because I wanted to be out there. Me and my mom were just saying, ‘Let’s try to get back to the Final Four again this year,’” Harrow said. “She was excited about the games just like I was. She felt that I wanted to be out there as well, and she told me it was my time next year. It’s ironic that Final Four this year is in Atlanta with me being from Atlanta. Getting to the Final Four would be pretty cool.”
Kentucky’s chances of getting there could depend in part on how well Harrow, who is expected to be the Wildcats’ starting point guard, plays as he takes over from Marquis Teague, one of three first-round draft picks gone from last year’s team.
DraftExpress.com analyst Matt Kamalsky thinks Harrow’s play will have a huge impact on the success of freshman center Nerlens Noel and ultimately on Kentucky’s overall success.
“Noel's success offensively, and in my opinion Kentucky's championship hopes, are going to have a lot to do with how well Ryan Harrow handles the point guard position. Harrow is a dynamic player with his creativity off the bounce, and if he strikes a good balance between being a facilitator and being a scorer, he could make Noel's life a lot easier, especially against quality competition,” Kamalsky said.
“Noel is a very good finisher, and has nice body control in the air for how skinny he is, but his post game and shooting ability are both works in progress. The more defensive movement Harrow creates in the dribble drive, the less regularly Noel will have to make plays out of his current comfort zone.”
Harrow says he learned plenty during his transfer year, when he could practice daily but not play, and he knows what coach John Calipari will expect this season.
“I learned everything that coach Cal wanted from me as a point guard, and I¿learned that they want the best out of everybody and they will push us hard to get the best out of all of us. They might be hard on us, but we just have to know they are looking out for us in the long run,” he said.
“I definitely have gotten stronger than where I¿was when I first got here or where I¿was at N.C. State. I tried to put on weight, but it seems like I can’t get past 168 (pounds). It doesn’t seem to stick on me. I have got heavier and definitely stronger, things I¿needed to do.”
He learned from going against Teague that he had to be stronger.
“He was such a strong player. He was one of the strongest people on the team last year, so having to play against somebody as strong as him and take those bumps helped a lot. Playing him on defense helped me also because when he shoved into me or he was really fast and I would have to be on my toes or dedicate myself to defense,” Harrow said.
Calipari knows last year will help Harrow as he follows a line of talented Calipari point guards — Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Teague — all of whom have been first-round draft picks.
“He got beat up. He played against a pit bull (Teague) every day who was letting him know,” Calipari said. “I want Ryan to be best lay-p shooter in the SEC. I don’t need any cuteness. Get to the basket and shoot layups. If they absolutely back off like they tried to play Marquis, he shoots better. But I want him to shoot layups, which means you play through bumps and keep going. That’s what we want.
“The good news is that you have Archie (Goodwin) who can play the position, too. We have flexibility. We can do things with Archie and Julius (Mayes). You could do three guards and two bigs.”
Harrow knows exactly what message Calipari is sending to him about shooting layups — and he’s taken it to heart.
“I think he is saying getting into the paint and take the bumps and still finish the layup or make the layup. He knows that I can score and that I can shoot pretty well. But me going into there and taking the bump and still getting a shot off is what he wants the most,” Harrow said.
“I know a big part of this team is going to play around me. It is not because it is me, but it is because I am the point guard. That’s a big responsibility for coach Calipari’s team, because he feels how far the point guard goes is how far the team goes. I think I¿am up to the challenge. I have been working hard and been waiting long enough for it as well.¿I am just ready to get out and play.”
Still, following the legacy of the last five Calipari point guards can be a daunting task.
“It is definitely cool. I¿am not scared at all, because I¿feel like I¿definitely have the skills to be that next point guard in the line coach Cal has had,” Harrow said. “I don’t think I should think of it like Derek, Tyreke, John, Brandon and Marquis. That will put too much pressure on me, and I¿don’t want to have that because it will only make me not do well.¿I am happy to be out there playing and being that point guard.”
Even though he has yet to play a game at Kentucky, Harrow is now one of the team’s veterans. Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer is the Wildcats’ most experienced player returning from last season, but he played sparingly. Julius Mayes has played more college games than anyone, but he did that at North Carolina State and Wright State before transferring to UK for this season. Junior Jon Hood has played some, but missed all of last season with a knee injury.
“I guess you could say that I¿am one of the old guys now,” Harrow laughed and said. “I¿guess I¿am kind of old, but I¿am so goofy you would think I was one of the freshmen the way I look and how I talk. You would think I was a regular freshman just watching how I act.”
Harrow knows how difficult the opening two games against Maryland and Duke will be. Like Mayes, he played against those teams when he was at North Carolina State.
“I remember the first time I¿played against Duke I played pretty well. The second time I¿played, I was pretty sick but still played. I know how tough Duke is to play against. ‘Coach K’ wants his team to be like a perfectionist on the floor. It will be tough. That is kind of a veteran team. We will have to play well, but I¿think we can compete against them. Same with Maryland. I¿know how much they will want to beat Kentucky,”¿he said.
“The good thing about starting the season with those teams is that it really, it makes me more focused. Playing Maryland and then Duke in back-to-back games, we have to come out and play or it will not be good for us. I¿am just ready to get started on practicing and playing those games.”
It will also be sort of a homecoming for Harrow against Duke because the game is in Atlanta, Harrow’s hometown.
“We only get four tickets to the game, so I know my mom and dad I guarantee will be there. I guess my other friends have to buy tickets,” he said. “I know my coach from high school will be there, because he is a Duke fan and tried to get me to go there when I was in high school. I¿know he will be there to watch me play Duke. I will have a lot of friends there and some family that will be there, too. It should be fun.”
UK Preview: Ryan Harrow ready to run the offense for Calipari
Ryan Harrow (Clay Jackson / October 1, 2012)