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June 17, 2013

Harrison hopes to elevate Cats' point guard play

Andrew Harrison is one savvy savior.

Yes, Kentucky's incoming freshman point guard is being labeled as the man to fix what ailed the Wildcats' offense last season. And sure, he's expected to be the latest in a long line of esteemed lead guards to suit up for John Calipari.

But Harrison knows sometimes saves get blown. And he's ready for both the perks and the perils of playing point for Calipari.

"That's what I liked about (Calipari): he let me know that it's going to be tough," Harrison said last month in Chicago. "If we do lose a game, five games, a lot of people are going to blame it on me because I am the point guard or whatever. But I feel like I'm ready for that challenge."

He'll likely get an early opportunity to prove he's up to the task.

Harrison, the top-ranked point guard and the fifth-ranked player in the 2013 Rivals150, is penciled in at the most important position on Calipari's roster, one where the Wildcats struggled last season en route to a 21-12 record and a first-round NIT loss.

Ryan Harrow started for most of the season at point guard, and though his numbers were solid - 9.9 points, 3.4 assists per game - he had a wildly inconsistent year before announcing his transfer to Georgia State.

He was out of the lineup early with an illness and a family issue. He seemed to struggle to fit in at times after his return.

At one point, Harrow followed back-to-back scoreless games with a string of six straight double-digit scoring efforts, snapped with a four-point, 2-for-15 shooting performance in a critical Southeastern Conference Tournament loss to Vanderbilt.

In discussing why he recruited probable backup point guard Dominique Hawkins, Calipari noted that, "with what I just went through, I wanted a tough point guard," an apparent dig at Harrow's lack of physical and mental toughness.

It's a topic he's broached with Harrison more than once.

"He talks to me about toughness, and I feel like I can bring that to the team," Harrison said.

Calipari thinks so, too. And he should know.

Though Harrow struggled to provide punch at the point, Calipari has been a point-guard whisperer of late, sending Derrick Rose, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague to the first round of the NBA Draft after a single season under his tutelage.

"Andrew Harrison, my hope is by the end of the year, he's just like some of the other point guards we've had," Calipari said. "You look at him and say, hey he can do things that other point guards can't do at his size, his scoring ability."

At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Harrison has great size to see the floor and attack the rim. Perhaps more importantly, Calipari said, he "has a mentality of a point guard where he'll get everybody involved."

That will be critical for a young but talented Kentucky team that returns key contributors Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer and adds the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, featuring Harrison's twin brother, shooting guard Aaron Harrison, forwards Julius Randle, Marcus Lee and Derek Willis swingman James Young, center Dakari Johnson and point guard Hawkins.

The Cats will boast eight players who were five-star prospects coming out of high school and two more who were four-stars.

That's a lot of talent. And a lot of players to keep happy.

"Coach kind of put that on me, because I'm the point guard," Andrew Harrison said. "You just have to find people and put them in great positions to score. No one's selfish on the team, but I know I'm going to have to definitely distribute the ball and only score when I need to."

Still, he'll have his opportunities.

Given the Harrison twins' size and slashing ability, Calipari expects to employ more of his dribble-drive motion principles in 2013-14, giving both players ample opportunity to get to the rim and finish.

"I've got to get him here and say, 'What is exactly the best way for him to play?'" Calipari said. "Because your point guard has got to score also, which he does. I think the dribble-drive and pick-and-roll for him - he plays with great pace already - is really going to be good for him."

So there will be plenty of responsibility on Harrison's shoulders. And that means plenty of heat from Calipari, who's notoriously hard on his point guards and whose clashes with Harrow were well-documented.

Harrison's ready for that, too.

"It's basically just being mentally tough and knowing that whatever he says, he's trying to help you," Harrison said. "No matter what he says. I feel like my dad helped me with that, because he was always really hard on me and Aaron, and I feel like I can take anything from any coach after being coached by him in the summertimes."

Harrison is prepared for pressure. Though he's being labeled a hero, he's not afraid to play the scapegoat.

Not that he expects to be blamed for many losses.

The tall task of playing point guard for Calipari, Harrison said, looks a lot less daunting when he surveys the roster.

"I have the best scoring guard in the country in my brother," Harrison said. "The best power forward (in Randle). And I feel like the best small forward in James. It's going to be fun. I won't have to do too much. They're making my life real easy."


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