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Aaron Harrison

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Teammate James Young has opted to leave UK just as Julius Randle announced he would on Tuesday. Two other teammates, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee, have announced they will return. Randle said he had no idea what twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison would do about returning for their sophomore seasons or going into the draft.

“I can’t really speak for them. I have not given them any advice or anything,” Randle said Tuesday. “We are just talking about normal teenage things. I am pretty sure they will make the best decision for them. But whether they will go or declare, I can’t speak on that.”

However, he did says he expects UK to have an “amazing team” next year.

“We have so much talent,” Randle said. “Willie coming back, Marcus was huge in the (NCAA) tournament. So much talent coming in next year. They will definitely make another run. Coach Cal will do a great job of developing players.”

Calipari eventually did that last season even though UK finished 29-11, not exactly what was expected when the Cats started the year ranked No. 1 and openly talked of going 40-0. Regular-season losses created mounting criticism for the players and coach before UK caught fire in postseason play.

Randle said he dealt with the criticism because he never “fed to, read anything or believed anything” about the preseason hype. Instead, he stayed in his “own little circle” and stayed focused on improving.

“It was an experience I will never forget. All the adversity we went through all year and to finally have the opportunity to play for a national championship and see how we came together during the postseason run I will never forget. I will grow old one da yand tell my children or grandchildren what I did when I was 19 years old. It will always be a memory for me,” Randle said.

Randle said “some was fair, some was not fair” about the criticism during the year.

“But at the end of the day it never shook us up. We stayed together and showed how tough minded we are,” Randle said. “Lot of day I would go into practice or a game not feeling well, but I would look at those guys and know what they been through and that just gives you motivation.”

He said the daily challenges made him a better player and person.

“Each day you have to take things one day at a time. You are definitely going to face adversity in life whether it is basketball or not. Facing all that doubt and criticism taught me how to deal with things and I can apply it to life as well,” he said.

 

By LARRY VAUGHT

Don’t expect a decision quickly from guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison about the NBA draft. The Kentucky freshmen have until Sunday to declare for the draft or stay at UK and based on what their father told Houston’s Fox 26, it looks like a decision is several days away.

Aaron Harrison Sr. said the family is “probably midway” through the evaluation process and is still waiting official word from the NBA on the guards’ evaluations. Some mock drafts have both players projected as late first-round picks, some mock drafts have both going in the second round where there are no guaranteed contracts.

“I talked to a gentleman at the NBA and he said he would get it (the paperwork on the evaluations) to me as fast as possible and then we’ll go from there,” said Aaron Harrison Sr. “It’s important. You’re trying to find out what the prospects are for them and where they’ll be drafted and all those things.”

Sporting News’ mock draft has Andrew Harrison No. 21 pick and Aaron Harrison No. 25. Ed Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com also said he would put both in the first round.

Aaron Harrison Sr. told Fox 26 that his sons are not leaning either way. The twins told the station that they are thinking about “all the angles” and that the decision was tough on them and their family.

If both Andrew and Aaron Harrison return, the Wildcats will be a legitimate national title contender again — and perhaps the No. 1 team going into next season. Kentucky would have the Harrisons, Wilie Cauley-Stein, Marcus Lee, Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis definitely returning along with incoming freshmen Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. With Alex Poythress also likely returning and possibly Dakari Johnson as well, that’s another talented roster for coach John Calipari with depth and experience.

On top of that you add talented freshmen in pure point guard Tyler Ulis, skilled low-post scorer Karl Towns Jr., big-time jump-shooter Devin Booker and versatile power forward Trey Lyles. You’ve got a deep, talented and mature roster that actually has what it’s been missing in a locker room voice.

If the Harrisons continue to play the way they did in the postseason and can improve with a push from Ulis and Booker daily, UK could be a much better team next year than this season’s team that make the national title game.

If the Harrisons don’t return, the Hawkin-Ulis combination will be solid at point guard because Ulis has great court sense and is special at the game’s intangibles. Booker is also a knockdown shooter, much like former Cat Doron Lamb.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Just how impressive was Kentucky’s NCAA play even though the Wildcats lost to Connecticut in the national championship game?

Well, SI.com’s Brian Hamilton ranked the 10 best tourney games and three of the top four involved —you guessed it — Kentucky. And who can argue.

Hamilton ranked UK’s 78-76 win over previously unbeaten Wichita State as “maybe the most momentous round of 32 game ever.” That’s strong. Not just best game of this tourney, but best round of 32 game ever.
Hamilton had Wisconsin’s 64-63 overtime win over Arizona No. 2, but he had the Wildcats’ 74-73 win over Wisconsin on Aaron Harrison’s  second game-winning 3-pointer as the third best game. Hamilton called it a “thrilling back-and-forth affair.”

Next he listed Kentucky’s 75-72 victory Michigan at No. 4 that included the “first of Aaron Harrison’s two bring-down-the-house three-pointers to win games.”

So what do you think?

And no, Hamilton didn’t have the win over Louisville in his top 10, and I’m not sure he should not have included that game as well.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — When John Calipari had his postseason meeting with sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, the Kentucky coach said he “never even talked to him about coming back” to UK for another season.

Calipari had been in touch with 19 NBA general managers gathering information on the draft stock for his players after their NCAA title game loss to Connecticut and the consensus was that Cauley-Stein, despite the ankle injury he suffered in the NCAA tourney that ended his season, would be a mid-first round draft pick and likely lottery choice.

That’s why Calipari admitted Thursday he was a bit surprised when Cauley-Stein told him he would return to UK for his junior season.

Calipari said he reminded Cauley-Stein that when he came to see him in high school that one time he had a tennis racquet, another time he was playing wiffle ball and a third time he was playing kickball.

“I saw him play two football games with a 7-foot wide receiver and defensive back,” Calipari said.

Yet Cauley-Stein had reasons Calipari understood for wanting to return to UK.

“When he came back he said, ‘Coach, I am in no hurry to leave. I love going to school. I will be close to my degree (in another year). I still have to grow as a player and we left something (a national title) on the table.’ That is a good answer for me,” Calipari said. “There is a reason you do this and I want to make sure they are all thinking this through.”

Calipari’s press conference Thursday was to promote his new book, but it focused on what players might be back at Kentucky. Freshmen Julius Randle and James Young, the two players considered most likely to leave for the NBA, were not at the press conference and Calipari did not mention them or any player other than Cauley-Stein by name.

He said again he met with his players to ask them if they wanted him to explore their NBA options. He noted a “couple” said no but he received feedback on one from general managers that he might potentally be a first-round pick. That’s when Calipari told the player — presumed to be freshman center Dakari Johnson — that he needed to “get with his mother and needed to know what you are passing on if you come back” for another season.

“I have to live with myself. I think you need to come back, you I want you to know is out there,” Calipari said he told the player.

Calipari said he talked with NBA sources again Wednesday and his information he wants to go directly to parents.

“I don’t want any filter. This is it (accurate information),” the coach said. “I told all the kids when I met back on campus that whatever decision you make to leave or come back, this basketball program 50 years from now will be fine. Don’t make it for me, make it for you. Whatever is right for you.”

Calipari wants his players, and others, to understand it is not a sign of failure to come back for a second year — or a third year as Cauley-Stein has done. He noted how Patrick Patterson returned for his junior season in Calipari’s first year at UK and is now in line to sign a lucrative NBA contract because of his recent play.

“You have to convince each kid that everyone is different and we have your back. You have to trust the process. The bottom line is developing people and players. Some are mature physically. Some are mature emotionally,” Calipari said. “If you are emotionally ready (for the NBA) and not physically ready, you are out of your mind (to leave school). If you are both, you are the number one pick in the draft like we have had before (with John Wall and Anthony Davis).

“You have to look at each of these situations and I am even doing it in homes when I am recruiting. One thing I am saying is you are not a failure if you come back for two, three or four years. Do not plan on coming to Kentucky for year. But it can’t just be me doing it. It has to be everybody out there. Staying in school more than one year is not a failure.”

He says Cauley-Stein is not back because of any concerns about his ankle. He had surgery last week by “the best doctor in the world,” according to Calipari.

“Willie still has a couple of months to go (before he can be full speed), but he will be fine,” Calipari said.

With Cauley-Stein set to return and sophomore Alex Poythress also likely to return, that would give Calipari two veteran players with national championship game experience to build on next season. Freshmen Dominique Hawkins and Marcus Lee both played in the game and will be back as well. If Johnson and along with freshman guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison returned, it would give Calipari his most experienced — and deepest — team in six years at UK.

“Obviously it makes my job different (if those players return) than it has been the last four years,” Calipari said. “That means everyone of the kids needs me in a different way. It will be more of a challenge in having juniors, sophomores and freshmen that all need something different.

“Our young kids coming in want guys to come back. Some say someone should maybe leave because of who is coming in. You think it would be easier against NBA guys than high school guys. That’s nuts.

“What you have to do is accept their decisions. They have gotten the information. They know the downside because I have given it to them and when they make that decision you live with it.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

As Kentucky fans wait to see what twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison are going to decide about the NBA draft, speculation continues as to exactly what type of information that might be getting from NBA sources.

Some indicate the twins could both be late first-round picks. Some say neither will go in the first round. Some reports have the twins playing regular pick-up games at UK now, a sign they could be more focused on next year at Kentucky than the NBA draft.

I asked Ed Isaacson of NBAdraftblog.com, who has a terrific analysis of the Portsmouth Invitational at his website now, if the Harrisons helped their draft status with their NCAA Tournament play and how would he evaluate their status today. Here’s what he said:

“While Aaron Harrison provided some tremendous moments, he really was a non-factor for much of the tournament. Andrew did well when he stuck to the one thing he is very good at, driving to the basket and drawing fouls,” said Isaacson. “At points you could see the ‘tweak’ that was implemented to get him to pass more, but the results were too inconsistent to say it was a factor in the tournament run.

“If they were to come out, I don’t see them gaining any real value from the tournament run, and if they were to make a move up the draft, it would have to come in stellar showings during workouts. If they were to come out, I have a hard time thinking they drop out of the first round, but I would put Aaron’s value in the low 20′s and Andrew’s in the high 20′s to mid 30′s.

“There is still plenty of potential in both of them, but, as I’ve mentioned many times, changes need to start with their attitude on the court.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky coach John Calipari started a national media tour Monday to promote his new book, “Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out,” and admitted he had no idea how many players would leave UK early for the NBA draft and denied reports that he had any interest in coaching the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know right now,” said Calipari on the Dan Patrick Show when asked how many players might leave UK. “We had great conversations. They all have the information. I am not going to meet with them nine times. This is it. Tell me what you want to do so I can help you.”

He later when on Kentucky Sports Radio and said he called 10 NBA general managers the day after UK lost to Connecticut in the national championship game to gauge where his players might land in the draft. He said he even had one player on the way to the airport in Dallas after the title game he told him he didn’t want to leave UK.

“As I was doing all of the other research, they were throwing his name in, and a couple of them told me he could be a first round pick. So, I had to call him back in and say, ‘I know what you said to me, but you and your mom need to sit down and talk about this because here’s some of the information I’m getting,’” Calipari said.

“If you’re in the first round, you’ve got to go do this, if you’re in the lottery, you’ve got to go do this.” In fact, if a player wants to come back, he has them sit down and explain why, like Patrick Patterson did back in 2009,” Calipari said.

Calipari said he doesn’t see any way all eight players that might consider leaving early would do that. He noted they have until April 27 to make a decision to put their names into the draft and that they are “not hurting” him or UK by waiting to make a decision.

“You obviously know that there’s a couple, they’re going to go, and then there’s three or four that are like ‘what will you guys do?’ At this point? I don’t know. I don’t think all eight will leave. How about that? We finally will have some guys come back. I don’t think eight will go, but five, six, four, I don’t know,” he said.

He also addressed the rumor former Kentucky star Rex Chapman put out a few hours before the national championship game that he had been told it was a “done deal” that Calipari was going to be the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Obviously it is not true,” Calipari told Patrick.

He said he was “surprised” that Chapman put that message on Twitter.

“You know, every year I have coached I am going somewhere. That is all part of being the coach at Kentucky but that disappointed me in that unless the Lakers told him, which I know wasn’t done … They had a coach. We had a coach. Getting ready for the championship game. I am not mad at Rex. We are moving on,” Calipari said.

Calipari said the rumor was not a distraction for him or the team because they didn’t know about it until after the game.

Patrick asked if Calipari would one day like to be offered the Lakers job?

“No, I am good We need to get this thing to two years (before a player can leave college for the NBA),” he said.

He said on Kentucky Sports Radio that he had a “great job” where he could impact the lives of players and their families and wanted to keep doing that. However, he told Patrick if players are still able to leave school after one year that it would “be hard” for him to still be coaching in three to five years.

“The option is to recruit players that are not good enough (to leave UK for the NBA after one year) or convince kids that should leave that they should stay,” Calipari told Patrick. “I am not comfortable with that and BBN is not comfortable with the first one (recruiting players not as good). Let’s get to two years because that is good for everyone.”

Calipari said even if he didn’t get the top-ranked players, the 50th rated recruit would still think he could be a one-and-done player.

“If I try to talk them into staying, people are going to say I am doing it for me,” he told Patrick. “I give information to families and they make the decisions. I can’t go at this any other way.”

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari says his postseason “tweak” to the Wildcats’ game plan was a simple matter of convincing freshman point guard Andrew Harrison to pass first instead of shoot.

The adjustment made Harrison more of a distributor in the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments. He helped the Wildcats reach the NCAA championship — and during the run his twin brother Aaron made back-to-back clutch 3-pointers off feeds from Andrew.

During an television appearance Monday, Calipari said, “What I tried to do was make the game easier for Andrew.”

Connecticut beat Kentucky 60-54 in the championship, but the Wildcats’ performance may have helped the Harrisons’ NBA draft stock.

The twins are among several Kentucky freshmen projected as NBA prospects if they leave school early.

uk basketball logoBy LARRY VAUGHT

Could Kentucky  lose seven players — five freshmen starters and sophomores Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress — to the NBA draft?

As unlikely as that might seem to Kentucky fans, it doesn’t seem that unlikely to some who closely monitor the NBA draft.

Start with ESPN analyst Chad Ford who indicated on ESPN.com Wednesday that UK could lose more than the expected trio of Julius Randle, Cauley-Stein and James Young — all projected first-round picks in every mock draft I have seen.

Ford agreed that Randle and  Young are “for sure gone” and put Cauley-Stein in the same category even though the sophomore explained after the title game that there would be reasons for staying in school — as well as having several millions reasons (dollar-wise) for going to the NBA. He has Randle ranked as the fifth best player with Young 16th and Cauley-Stein 19th

“The Harrison twins have wanted to leave all year according to multiple sources around the twins, but their draft stock made them iffy first rounders. I’m not sure it’s to the point that they are clear first rounders,” Ford said on ESPN.com. “Andrew probably has the most claim, but he’s not a lock. Another year at Kentucky would help.”

Aaron Harrison Sr. told the Houston Chronicle that he had not discussed the NBA with his sons before the title game and that he expected them to discuss the subject this weekend when the twins likely will come home. Harrison Sr. said about a month ago that he was fine with his sons staying at UK if that was their decision.

NBADraft.net has Andrew Harrison going 27th in the first round with Aaron going in the second round with the 35th overall.

Draftexpress.com has Randle going fourth, Cauley-Stein 12th and Young 17th. Draftexpress.com does not have any other Wildcat going in the first or second rounds. CBSSports.com has  Randle, Cauley-Stein and Young in the same slots with Poythress 46th and Aaron Harrison 47th in the second round. CBS has Andrew Harrison as the 61st best prospect — there are 60 spots in the draft.

Most assumed that freshman Dakari Johnson would be back. While he said he had not thought about his draft status after Monday’s national title game loss, he also didn’t want to say he would be back at UK, either.

“Dakari Johnson would be a bubble first rounder as well,” Ford said.

He said he’s also heard rumblings that Poythress could declare, but says he would be on the same first-round bubble as Johnson.

“I think there’s a chance all of them are gone. There are certainly rumblings that direction. But the only three that really make sense right now are Randle, Young and Cauley-Stein,” Ford said.

 Players don’t have long to make a decision. The draft is not until June 26 but players who wanted official NBA input have already had to request that and will receive by Monday. Those not requesting information have until April 27 to enter the draft.

 

 

video courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV

Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.

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