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By WILL GRAVES
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Ã¢â‚¬â€ Josh Harrellson wondered two months ago if he had the heart to keep playing basketball.
The Kentucky senior center found the answer in the lonely moments before practice, as he completed another difficult conditioning session mandated by John Calipari as punishment for comments he made on Twitter venting his frustration over the coachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reluctance to praise him in any variety.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I knew I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t let my teammates down,Ã¢â‚¬Â Harrellson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I knew they were counting on me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Now more than ever.
Harrellson scored a career-high 23 points and grabbed 14 rebounds on Friday as the 11th-ranked Wildcats beat No. 22 Louisville 78-63, a performance so complete it left his normally verbose coach virtually speechless.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Josh had 23 points and 14 rebounds?Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari asked while glancing at the stat sheet. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Oh my gosh.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Calipari wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the only one.
While the Cardinals focused most of their frontcourt defense on freshman Terrence Jones, Harrellson had the game of his life. He made 10 of 12 field goals Ã¢â‚¬â€ including his second 3-pointer of the season Ã¢â‚¬â€ as the Wildcats (11-2) controlled their instate rivals over the final 30 minutes.
He walked off the court in the final moments and received a hug from Calipari, a moment unfathomable in October as Harrellson found himself buried deep in his coachÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s doghouse.
Calipari told Harrellson he was proud of him, and offered HarrellsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s determination as proof that careers can turn around no matter how late it seems. Harrellson languished on the bench most of last season behind freshman All-American DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton and Perry Stevenson.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Last year I just didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have time for him, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not fair,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
That shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be a problem now. Kentucky is talented but not very deep. Harrellson is part of a tight six-player rotation. The extra conditioning heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s doing combined with the longer leash to go out and play through mistakes has allowed him to flourish.
He has admirably filled the void left by the NCAAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision to rule freshman center Enes Kanter permanently ineligible, but his offensive explosion on New YearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Eve was never supposed to be part of the deal. Yet there he was throwing down dunks and knocking down jumpers and earning LouisvilleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s respect in the process.