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Josh Harrellson blocks an Ohio State shot. (Victoria Graff photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

NEWARK, N.J. — Kentucky coach John Calipari admitted he was so mad at senior center Josh Harrellson back after a preseason game that he almost threw him off the team.

“And I went to mass and I thought better of it and thought and said, ‘You are going to condition for 30 minutes before every practice and then you are going to practice or you can quit,’” said Calipari here Friday night.

Calipari — and Kentucky fans — is glad he didn’t do more to Harrellson after the center posted a Twitter message wondering why the coach didn’t praise him more. Harrellson accepted the workout challenge, got in better shape and now is a huge reason UK will play North Carolina Sunday in the NCAA Tournament East Region final.

He had 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting from the field and 3-for-3 at the foul line along with 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in a 62-60 upset win over No. 1 Ohio State. It was his eighth double-double of the year, third in postseason play and second in the last three NCAA games. He’s shooting 21-for-27 (77.8 percent) from the field in three NCAA games and is averaging 15.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots  per game in NCAA play.

“I’m not sure if I have ever been this proud of a young man who is going to do what he wants to do now. But he changed. He did it himself. It’s not what I did. We put him on stage, but they have to perform,” said Calipari.

Harrellson helped make Ohio State freshman star Jared Sullinger at least labor for his 21 points and 16 rebounds. Sullinger had four turnovers in 39 minutes and had just one blocked shots as Harrellson’s offense came close to offsetting the follow shots and free throws Sullinger made.

Calipari took exception to a pregame story he saw indicating that if UK had freshman Enes Kanter, who was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, that Kentucky would have had a much better chance to beat Ohio State.

“We started calling him Enes in practice. He played like Enes,” junior DeAndre Liggins said.

“Coach told us to in practice to call him Enes. That (the story) was disrespectful to Josh because he is playing. So we all just thought we would call him Enes,” freshman Terrence Jones said. “He just went out there with something to prove and didn’t want his season to end as a senior. You could tell he was playing with that emotion not to lose and didn’t want to finish out his season in this game.

“He is aggressive. He is not the same Josh. The way he played was just different.”

Ohio State coach Thad Matta noticed.

“I think Harrellson is probably the most underrated player in college basketball,” Matta said. “He’s a tremendous player and knows his role and does it well. He did a great job bodying up (on Sullinger) and preventing him from getting the ball to the follow-through.”

Harrellson made several notable plays, but his biggest probably came with 1 minute, 6 seconds left when he forced Sullinger to miss a baseline shot with UK leading 58-57. Harrellson’s defense was so tight that Sullinger’s shot hit the side of the backboard.

“I gave up an offensive rebound right before that and gave up an easy lay-up. I didn’t really contest it, so I was going to try to make it up for my teammates. I was trying to be big,” Harrellson said. “I had a couple of inches on them. We were the same weight, so I was trying to be bigger than him, and he threw it off the side of the backboard and I went for the rebound, and that was a key play right there.

“I have been guarding the best guys in the country for the last two years with DeMarcus (Cousins), Daniel (Orton), Pat (Patterson), and this year guarding Enes and it gives me an edge guarding Jared Sullinger, one of the best in the nation. Going against Enes, it gives me more confidence coming into this game.”

Harrellson credited teammates for his offensive production even though he had five offensive rebounds

“I have to be thankful for my teammates for doing that. They got me open. Easy drop-offs to me and I was finishing and they came back on pick-and-rolls,” he said.

Backup center Eloy Vargas was thrilled with the way Harrellson played.

“It was great to see him play like that. They were talking about we could not win without Enes. He has been playing mean lately because that is what we need to win and keep winning,” Vargas said.

Harrellson even once slammed the ball off Sullinger as he was about to lose it going out of bounds to retain possession for UK. “He told me he just did that to get the rebound and not to cause problem, but I think it sent a message to Sullinger,” Vargas said.

Kentucky sophomore Jon Hood was on the SportsReach exhibition trip to China last summer when Harrellson sometimes dominated play. He’s not surprised by what Harrellson is doing.

“You all said Josh has just gotten better all of sudden. I don’t think he has just got better like that. It has just come out of him. In China he destroyed everybody. Chinese, Russians, it didn’t matter. He did it to everybody,” Hood said. “I have seen Josh play like this. This is a step up from what I have seen, but everybody in here knew he had it. He just had to bring it out and now he’s really doing that.”

21 Responses to Josh Harrellson really is playing like Enes Kanter

  • Jennifer D. says:

    Thanks again Josh for yet another great game! Sullinger didn’t know what hit him and his stats wouldn’t have been nearly as good if Josh hadn’t gotten a much deserved long rest during the game!Go CATS!

  • Martyman says:

    The names of UK Bigs ring out through the years: Bowie, Turpin, Patterson, Cousins and Issel. Now you can add one more by his moniker, his nickname, his handle……JORTS, and everyone will know you are talking about the one and the only Josh Harrellson. Your rise onto the national scene in college b-ball has been metamorphic. You are a BEAST! We love ya JORTS!

  • larryvaught says:

    It truly is incredible what he has done

  • grant says:

    Jennifer d. : sullinger did know what hit him , it was a basketball at about 90 mph. for jorts’ next trick i want to see him throw it off zellers face. Jorts was simply awesome.

  • Karen Sprinkle says:

    To be honest, I’ve never really been a huge believer in the expression that everything happens for a reason. Had Cal not questioned our team’s rebounding ability and had he praised Josh, had Josh not tweeted and Cal reacted with his test of seeing how much Josh wanted it, had not Josh taken it as the challenge that it was….. IMO, Josh would not be the player he is today. Just one little thing set a lot of other things in motion that has led us to the Elite Eight with as Coach Matta put it with one of the most underrated players in college basketball. You have to think that Josh will get the chance to play professional basketball. He may not get drafted in the NBA (depending on what players come out early, foreign players, etc.) but I think he has a real shot at getting a big foot in the door and at a minimum getting a free agent contract. So, now I can say–I BELIEVE! Things do happen for a reason. JORTS, you are my hero!

  • P BARKER says:

    There are some really talented posters on other Kentucky Boards and I’ve lMAO at these:
    Jorts is the most interesting man in the world:

    At museums is he allowed to touch the art? His mother is having a tatoo put on this morning that reads SON.
    He doesn’t always drink beer but when he does he buys it with Sullinger’s lunch money.
    When he goes to a Rolling Stones concert, he is asked to perform with Mick Jagger.
    He was once caught drinking Blue Kool Aid with Charles Barkley.
    He once pitched against the heart of the Yankees batting order and struck out the side…with a basketball. They’re still recovering.
    Chuck Norris wears Jorts pajamas. And still, he remains thirsty, my friends.
    His personality is so magnetic, he can’t carry credit cards.
    Loved it

  • King Ghidora says:

    I heard he was set to go on the Tonight Show but Jay Leno threw a fit saying he had a contract and blah blah blah and he wasn’t giving up his seat to anyone! :)

    Jorts has certainly made the big move from also-ran to super star with a bona fide legacy in BBN lore. His name will be talked about for 40 years and he’ll never have to buy another meal or another beer in his life. He has left his mark on the BBN tree of rememberance. I can still tell stories about Jim Andrews, Tom Parker, Ronnie lyons, Stan Key, Kent Hollenbeck, and Bob McCowan and that’s just the ones that were in the last 40 years. I can go back to Issel, Casey, Pratt, Steele, and Dinwiddie, not to mention Riley, Kron, Conley, Dampier, Jaracz, and a lot more. Guys like me will mention Harrellson for many years to come and he deserves it as much as any. Heck if this team wins it all they might hang his jersey in Rupp. If I were older I could tell even more stories but I hope to be older every year and I’ll still remember. Jorts will be part of BBN history for many years to come.

  • King Ghidora says:

    BTW that was pretty neat when Barley picked the Cats to win. Not everyone thought OSU would dominated the Cats. I should know because I didn’t and neither did Sir Charles.

  • Andy says:

    I said this before. Josh had the size to compete with Jared Sullinger and other posters various boards told me I was crazy and that Sullinger would have to be double teamed. Josh punked Sullinger including that nasty dodgeball like throw on Jared. Thad Matta has class and OSU played against some real good competition finally.

  • Jim Boyers says:

    I believe that Josh’s story is worthy of a “movie of the week”.

    It could be called: “THE TWEET THAT SAVED A SEASON”.

    I’m with Karen. Without that tweet, none of this happens. This team probably doesn’t even make the tourney.

    Be honest, did ANY of you think this was possible a month ago? I sure didn’t.

  • King Ghidora says:

    I did. I knew it was possible for them to gel at the right time and wow did they ever. They never lost any games by big margins except for UCONN and I think that’s the team that will probably be the toughest out in the tournament. When you have a guard that can take over a game like that you are always going to be a tough out. Walker scored 29 against the Cats back then. But the Cats were very, very green at the time. They have gotten much better but UCONN probably has too. I think UNC is way overrated again this year (as usual). The Cats would have won going away anywhere except the Dean Dome. Zeller went off for 27 in that game but that was before Josh really blossomed like he has now. This will be another tough game and if the Cats don’t choke (Final 4 Fever) they play on until next week. Final 4 Fever got them last year. They couldn’t hit an outside shot to save their lives so WVU just packed the lane and that was that. Look for UK to get revenge with a win under 5 points.

  • Rod says:

    Fear the JORTS!

  • LindaS says:

    From the grandmother scorned by Josh, I am very proud of him! Some of these post made me roflmao, who would have thought a miracle like this would happen. I think the last one we saw was in New Orleans in the 90′s. Coach kept telling us wait till March, but I don’t think any one of us would have imagined that Josh would have been the pillar that kept this team up. Leach said last night Believe in Blue, I think we have all begun to Believe in Josh. It is truly amazing how one young man can turn his life around in such a short period of time. I am glad Coach went to Mass and prayed the day after Josh made his infamous tweet, just think what would have happened if he had tossed him off the team. Josh will be a legend for many years to come in this state and in the BBN. He should not move from the state of Kentucky after graduation because the STATE is his and will be his for a lifetime. And I repeat, Josh, da man, da beast, da legend da dude! How much better can it get? Go Cats and thank you for one incredible game last night. Josh, thanks for showing me what a fast ball looks like in basketball and you may have a second career as a tattoo artist after that one you put on Sullinger’s chest. I’m still pumped from that game! Go Cats!

  • Karen Sprinkle says:

    Jim, I thought it was possible, but I wasn’t sure how probable it was. Hand it to the guys–I don’t think they ever stopped believing in themselves or their teammates and they put in the hard work necessary to find that special something just at the right time. I never stopped believing, but some days I had to work harder at it than others, if you know what I mean. GO BLUE AVENGERS!

  • LindaS says:

    I like that Karen, Blue Avengers! Go Cats!

  • larry vaught says:

    Josh was star of press conference today. National media swarmed him.

  • LindaS says:

    That is good to hear, Larry, Josh deserves it. GO CATS!

  • Because of the ncaa Enes Kanter did not get to play ball for Kentucky, because of the ncaa Josh Harrellson is playing ball for Kentucky.Kanter will get drafted by the NBA anyway and now because of the move by the ncaa Josh Harrellson will get his chance in the NBA also. I even heard someone compare his play to Chuck Hayes game.

    So the ncaa did not help Kanter and UK but the ncaa did help Harrellson and UK. (wonder if they are still laughing at us?)

    By the way a great BBN thank you to Kanter for working with Harrellson and helping him learn how to guard great big men.

  • LindaS says:

    I have really enjoyed all the stories about Josh, but they all say the same thing but maybe in a little different way. I wish they would also mention his work he does outside the classroom and off the court. I wish they would mention how warm he is towards the fans. I wish they would mention how he goes out of his way and spends time with school children. There is more to Josh then wearing a Kentucky uniform and transforming himself into one of the best big men on the court right now. I hope someone in the national media will get to know the Josh we know. GO Cats! BTW I hope J Bilas and the rest who laughed at Kentucky are chocking on their words now. Go Cats!

  • jerry boucher says:

    I wonder how the OSU players explained how they got the VOIT impression on their foreheads when they went home and Sully had one on his chest. lol

  • jerry boucher says:

    I loved it when Clark Kellogg called the Ky. players the Seran Wrap 5 cause that defense is air tight. lol

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