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By LARRY VAUGHT
Former Kentucky all-American Kenny Walker has been impressed, too, with Josh HarrellsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s dramatic improvement and role for the Wildcats.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He is a guy that can make an open jump shot, get a couple of putbacks and go out there and get you 10 or 11 rebounds if he stays out of foul trouble. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s who he is and I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want him to try and be no more than what he is. I think he will get better as the year goes on,Ã¢â‚¬Â Walker said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think he will ultimately provide more offense. Right now heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just a garbage man, and that is his role. If he continues to do that, I am okay with that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Harrellson admits his confidence is growing. He played behind DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton and Patrick Patterson, all first-round draft picks, as well as Perry Stevenson last year. This year he was expected to be a backup for Enes Kanter and Terrence Jones and probably even behind Eloy Vargas, a junior college transfer.
Instead, with Kanter ineligible and Vargas ineffective, Harrellson has become UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s anchor in the middle. The more he plays, the more Jones can flourish on the perimeter where he likes to play.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“At the beginning of the year I would not try to put it back up. I would try to kick it out. Now when I get the ball I look to score now and try to be more aggressive,Ã¢â‚¬Â Harrellson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am always an option when I relocate. If I start finishing it I am going to be more confident and they will be more confident throwing it to me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He also has to learn to avoid fouls, something he did against Indiana but has struggled to do in other games.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I just came in with the mentality I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to get in foul trouble early like I have the last couple of games,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said after the Indiana game. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is totally different when I get in foul trouble. It brings the team down and we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t play as well. I have to play without fouling.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Kentucky coach John Calipari would like to see him draw a charge, something he has yet to do this season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Josh had three opportunities for charges that he didn’t take (against Indiana). We are doing drills right now where he’s taking five charges in one set: Charge top, charge baseline, charge baseline, come up, charge, charge down the middle. Still won’t take a charge,Ã¢â‚¬Â Calipari said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Again, you have got to give your body up. But if he will rebound and do what he’s doing, we can’t ask much more of him. All we are saying now is give us five percent better, where can you improve, how can you draw a foul because you’re such a good shooter. Where can we put you to you get a couple baskets. He’s doing everything.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I work every day in practice on free throws. I am about an 85 to 90 percent shooter. I know I am a good shooter. I just have to get to the line,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
He liked the way his teammates countered IndianaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s physical play, too,
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are a young team. They had seen previous games where we were not as physical with teams as we should be. Like North Carolina, we werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t tough. They were trying to come out and being the more aggressive team and thinking maybe we would back down and fold,Ã¢â‚¬Â Harrellson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our young guys are getting used to it more now. If we get punched in the mouth, we retaliate and go back at them now.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are coming closer as a team. We share the ball and are not being selfish. These last three games we have really made strides as a team collectively. Brandon has shown strides of being a team leader, Terrence has showed a side of playing hard every game. I think everybody is giving everything they have got.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You want to come out every game no matter who you play like that. You are trying to beat every team you play by 50, but sometimes teams tend to play down to competition, especially young teams not used to just coming out and playing hard every night. We are getting better in that area and will improve on out at that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Harrellson, though, has already improved more than most imagined. He had one double-double in two previous seasons. In nine games this year, he has two.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It feels great when you help your team out. You just go out there and play your game and help your team get better any way you can. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all I am doing,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.