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By LARRY VAUGHT
He scored in double figures in 18 of Kentucky’s last 24 games, but the final two games exposed every weakness that point guard Ryan Harrow had and could turn into his last two games with the Wildcats.
Harrow started his collegiate career at North Carolina State, but transferred to UK last season. He practiced daily against Marquis Teague, a strong, defensive-minded player who became a first-round NBA draft pick. The plan was for that seasoning to give Harrow a chance to become another of the productive point guards to play for coach John Calipari.
But it went wrong. Terribly wrong.
In the season opener against Maryland, Harrow didn’t score and played just 10 minutes because of an illness. He missed the next four games — and even went home for a time — for personal reasons that were never revealed by Harrow or Calipari. His first three games back (Notre Dame, Baylor and Samford) he had a combined six points in 48 minutes.
Harrow, though, seemed to reassert himself. He had 17 points in a loss at Louisville. He had three assists and no turnovers against probably the most aggressive defense UK faced all year. Two games later he had 16 points and four assists at Vanderbilt. However, he was overmatched by Alabama’s guards in a road loss and went scoreless in consecutive road losses at Florida and Tennessee when he was 0-for-5 from the field with just one assist in 37 total minutes.
Even though he came back to score in double figures six straight games and played well in upsets of Missouri (16 points, six assists) and Florida (16 points, four steals), Harrow never seemed to earn back the trust of Calipari or his teammates.
Now his future at UK is in limbo after his performances against Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and Robert Morris in the NIT. Kentucky already has seven players in its recruiting class and could well add Andrew Wiggins and Dominique Hawkins, too. That would be nine scholarships for next season. If freshmen Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin return, that’s 11. If Kyle Wilter stays — and I think he will — that’s 12. If Jon Hood stays and used his extra year of eligibility, that’s 13. Or if Calipari wants to keep Jarrod Polson on scholarship because of the toughness he showed this year, that’s 13. And that doesn’t even take into account that freshman Willie Cauley-Stein could possibly return.
That could leave Harrow out after he went 2-for-15 from the field against Vanderbilt and had four points and four turnovers in 30 minutes. He followed that with five points and two turnovers against Robert Morris when he played only nine minutes because Calipari said he was just not tough enough to play more.
“(I did) things that I’ve never done before. One, I did things to try to help this team I’ve never done, but things that I did to try to save guys, when you have more people you just cut right then. Now you’re on the team, but you’re just not going play that much because you won’t change. Most of it is just accepting change. You can’t play this way and play,” said Calipari after the Robert Morris game.
Was he directing that at Harrow? Not entirely, but obviously playing him only nine minutes made it clear how unhappy he was with the sophomore point guard.
Are physical games like Robert Morris tough on Harrow? ““I would say. And that’s everybody’s MO on how to play us,” Calipari said.
What about his future with the team? “We’ll have an individual meeting and talk about it,” Calipari said.
Again, Harrow is not the only reason UK lost 12 games. But a veteran NBA scout told me that UK’s lack of a “quality” point guard impacted the way everyone else on the team played. It also could have led to Calipari having the softest team he’s had, or likely ever will have, because even Harrow would admit he was not tough enough.
He wept after the Vanderbilt loss in the dressing room and blamed himself for the loss. Teammates said it was not his fault, but no one rushed over to console him, either.
Harrow’s dilemma is that he cannot transfer to another Division I school without losing a year of eligibility since he’s already transferred once. He could go to Division II or NAIA and play two more years, but remember this is a player that Calipari noted several times could be “as good as any point guard in the country” when he plays the right way.
“I can’t go anywhere. So I’ll be here next year and just getting ready for next year,” Harrow said after the Robert Morris loss.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement about wanting to be back at UK to play behind twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison — or even Polson — next season.
When pressed, Harrow did say he wanted to be back.
“I definitely learned some stuff playing this year. Nobody’s ever questioned my ability or talent,” Harrow said. “It’s just been my energy and things like that. That’s easy to work on. Just got to get back to Kentucky and start working immediately, lifting weights and working on regular skill things.”
But does Calipari want him back? Does Kentucky need him back — what happens if one or both Harrisons would get hurt or even in foul trouble? Could Polson and Hawkins provide more than enough depth at guard? How will the numbers work out?
Those are all questions only Harrow and Calipari can answer, but based on the way Harrow finished the season it seems that it might be best for both UK and Harrow if the point guard finds a new place to play.