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By LARRY VAUGHT
The more point guard Ryan Harrow plays and improves, the better Kentucky is going to be. Just ask guard Julius Mays, who likely will play less as Harrow’s minutes increase.
“He makes a big difference,” said Mays after Saturday’s 74-46 win over Portland. “He is a true point guard. He can create for himself and others. He really changes the whole game.”
And that’s what UK desperately needs — a point guard that can be a game changer for him and his team.
Kentucky coach John Calipari liked what he saw from Harrow, who missed four games this season for personal reasons. He played a season-high 25 minutes. He was only 3-for-8 from the field, but he made his first 3-pointer of the season. He had eight points, a team-high six assists, four rebounds, one steal and just one turnover.
“I liked it,” Calipari said when asked about Harrow’s play. “He had two lapses of his old self and I absolutely jerked him out of the game because he is not playing that way. The other parts of the game, I thought he did fine. Got to run the team a little bit better, like yelling out what he we’re doing. But he was good. I’m happy for him.”
Harrow is just happy to be playing. He transferred to UK from North Carolina State last year and drew rave reviews for his play in practice against Marquis Teague, a first-round NBA draft pick last year. He was expected to take over at point this year, but got sick before UK’s first game, played sparingly and then missed four games. He even went home for “family reasons” one week.
He’s so appreciative of the way Calipari has taken him back — even when he screams at him — that he sent the coach a thank-you text message a few days ago after being encouraged to do so by his family.
“Me and him have a good relationship,” Harrow said. “All you see is him yelling at me, but that’s how he coaches. Off the court he tells me how to be the best version of me. I sent him a text two days ago to keep being hard on me and thanking him for keeping the pressure on me. I took two weeks off and he could have put me on the sidelines. I did not expect to be playing this much yet, but I am thankful I am. He’s not going to let up on me until he gets me to be the point guard he wants.”
That’s because if Harrow can run the team, it allows freshman Archie Goodwin to slide back his more natural spot at two guard and use his creativity to score in a variety of ways. Late in Saturday’s win Goodwin (15 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals) had two crowd-pleasing dunks on fast breaks because Harrow was at the point and that allowed him to run the court.
“We don’t get easy baskets when he (Harrow) is not in the game,” Calipari said.
“Archie is pretty much unstoppable on the break,” Harrow said. “I will find him. I will find anybody. Archie has a little more of a scoring mentality. I am more like whoever is open, I will get them the ball.
But that doesn’t mean Harrow can coast thinking UK needs him. Calipari once again made that clear Saturday when asked what lapses Harrow had.
“Jogs the ball up the court, standing straight up and down, not moving as the ball moves on defense. Just absolutely standing there. Okay, you’re out,” Calipari said. “The rest of the game he didn’t do it. He pushed the ball ahead, flew it up the court, stayed in a stance, bothered the ball. When the ball drove, he went level with the ball.”
Harrow said his lapses could be due to a “lack of focus” on his part and not pressuring the basketball like Calipari demands.
“He is always screaming at me on defense. I can hear it,” Harrow said. “If you start to stand up, I have to get back down in position immediately.”
Harrow says he can play defense — he had a midcourt steal — but that he’s never had to play such intense defense for long periods before in his basketball career.
“It’s kind of new for me to play defense this hard all the time. If you have a lapse, you are coming out,” Harrow said. “But you know he’s going to put you back in.”
Calipari has been stressing to Harrow to practice like he’s going to play and trust the coaches to show him what fans, scouts, media members, etc., want to see from a star player. On offense, the coach wants him to talk more. A lot more and a lot louder.
“I know I can beat my man off the dribble,” Harrow said. “I just have to make smart decisions and talk more. I feel at times I am yelling, but my yelling is like regular people talking (because of a soft voice). I guess I just have to start screaming until I am hoarse.”
Harrow was just 3-for-19 from the field coming into the game and said the coaches, especially Rod Strickland, had been encouraging him to shoot with more confidence.
“I’ve been in a little slump, but making some shots today will help,” he said. “I’ll be more confident in my shooting next game. My confidence is not all the way back yet, but I feel I can make shots. I am more a person that can get in the lane (and score). The 3 (point shot) is just something you shoot if you are open.”
Harrow knows he’s had to regain his teammates’ confidence after missing four games and disrupting the team chemistry.
“They were all always there for me and checking on me. It’s now more me doing what I can to regain their trust. Gong to breakfast, being in the gym, going hard in practice,” Harrow said. “But I’m getting more confident and I think they are getting more confident in me. We just all have to get in the gym and work more. Last year we did a little more work on our own. Earlier we were taking days off more. Now we are all back working harder and it’s going to pay off.”