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Andrew Harrison

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

Andrew Harrison answers questions after the Cats fell to UConn Monday night. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

Andrew Harrison answers questions after the Cats fell to UConn Monday night. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

By LARRY VAUGHT

ARLINGTON — Kentucky freshman guard Andrew Harrison wasn’t worried about statistics or legacies after UK lost to Connecticut 60-54 Monday night in the national championship game.

Instead, he was trying to deal with being so close to a championship with teammates he said he “loved” and not quite completing the remarkable postseason run.

“We had so much fun together and during this run. We were all so nervous starting out tonight. You try to say this is like every other game, but it was not,” said Harrison after the game. “We had a great year. A better year than some thought, maybe not as good as some thought we should. But we never gave up and we never quit believing in each other.

“I know we could have played better than we did tonight, but we didn’t. That’s going to happen. I am sure we will all think of things we could have done or should have done. That certainly includes me, but I loved being on this team.”

Here’s more of what Harrison had to say after Monday night’s game.

Question: Does the championship game loss overshadow the overall season for you?
Harrison: “No, definitely not. We realize that it was the national championship game, but it is more important to remember what we fought through.”

Question: How will you remember this season?
Harrison: “The time of my life. I was happy to be on the team. The fact that we lost on free throws is probably the worst thing.”

Question: Do you think if UK could have ever got the lead there might have been a different ending?
Harrison: “I hope so, but you don’t know. Yeah, it was tough to get stops on them. They were making crazy shots on us.”

Question: What do you say to UK fans?
Harrison: “They are great, the best fans in the world. I am sorry we didn’t pull this out for them. We wanted to.”

Question: When do you decide about the NBA or coming back to Kentucky?
Harrison: “I haven’t even thought about it. I am just focused on this game right now.”

Question: What did coach John Calipari say  to the team after the game?
Harrison: “Just that he was proud of us and we had gone through a lot and it was amazing what we did. We are going to try and keep our heads up, but it was national championship game and it hurts. But we overcame so much stuff that was even bigger than that game.”

Question: How did UConn get off to a 30-15 lead?
Harrison: “We were just nervous in the national championship game. I wasn’t making play I usually make and we missed some free throws. It was nerves.”

Question: What was it like to get so close to title and not winning?
Harrison: “Just the obstacles we had been through all year was bigger than the game.”

Question: How hard was it walking off and watching UConn celebrate the championship?
Harrison: “It was tough. We felt like we were the better team but they made some unbelievable shots. It’s hard knowing we don’t have another game and it’s over. But at the same time we can walk around with our heads up high and know we gave it our all this year.”

Question: Does it make it harder knowing this group will never be together again?
Harrison: “I am not sure how to answer that question. I have not thought about it really.”

Question: What did UK prove during this tournament run?
Harrison: “That we are as good as everybody thought. It just took a while to put it together.”

Question: What will you remember most about this season?
Harrison: “Just this run we had. Being able to get through all the stuff we have been through. It is really a remarkable story and I think it was a little bigger than this game. This one hurt us, though. We really wanted it.”

Question: How much does it hurt?
Harrison: “I really can’t explain. We thought we had them. They made some tough shots. We were a little anxious to get out there before we settled down.”

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.

By LARRY VAUGHT

ARLINGTON — Kentucky’s players were still trying to come to grips when their 60-54 loss to Connecticut in Monday’s national championship game when they started getting the question — would they be back at UK or head to the NBA.

“I don’t even know. I am not thinking about that right now. I am just thinking about this game,” said freshman center Dakari Johnson.

Next he got asked if that meant it was too early to say he would definitely be back at UK.

“I don’t know. I am still trying to deal with this loss,” Johnson said.

That’s basically what twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison said except they added they would have to discuss it with their family. Ditto for James Young. Julius Randle, considered the player that would be drafted the highest, dodged the question, too, as he softly answered question while trying to handle the disappointment of Monday’s loss.

Sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein, who was injured and did not play the last three tourney games, had more to say than his teammates about what the future might hold.

“I have no idea. I haven’t thought about it like that,” Cauley-Stein said when asked what it was like to be together with so many teammates for the final time. “I am just trying to relish the moment with my brothers and see what some of them are doing. That is kind of how I based my decision last year (to come back to UK rather than going to the NBA.)

Two NBA scouts at the Final Four said Cauley-Stein was UK’s most intriguing prospect after Randle. His size and athleticism have scouts contemplating what his potential could be once he fully commits to improving his offensive game. Both said his injury — Cauley-Stein said after the game he had a “cracked bone, stress fracture” in his ankle — would not be an issue unless it was more severe than it appeared.

“I can see coming back. I feel this emptiness in me like I’ve still got something to prove and I’ve still got so much stuff to work on in my game,” he said. “I went up from last year and now I want to make another jump in my game. Could I come back to school and make that step and be safe or do I make the jump to the league and mess everything up? What if I go there and don’t do what I thought and I’m stuck and can’t come back to school?

“I love school. I love being at Kentucky. I love the fan base. I love the community. So why not stay until they make you leave? IYou just get better as you get older. There are so many things that go through my head.”

That would be what he called “millions of dollars” and being able to work only on his game without balancing school, which he called a full-time job.

“That kind of weighs in. My family weighs in. I will talk to my family and coaches and then decide what is best for my future and my game and if I could be happy either way.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari does not discourage players from leaving if he feels they are ready to make the jump. The question becomes how many of these players are truly ready — and NBA scouts warn that what happens in March won’t wipe out a season’s worth of observations.

“Well, I’ll sit down with each young man individually, probably have their family either with us or on a speaker phone and get them information and say, ‘If I can help you with anything, let me know. Tell me what you want to do, what do I need to do to help you?’ Calipari said after Monday’s loss.

“I kind of stay out of the decision making. I just get them information. So we’ll see. I have no idea because I haven’t talked to them and none of us have talked about that. We were playing to win the national championship. But now that the season’s over, it is about the players.  It’s no longer about the program. It’s no longer about the team.

“It’s about each individual player on this team now. They sacrificed. They surrendered to each other now, for our team and our program and our school. Season’s over. Now it’s about them. And we’ll sit down with each of them and they will make decisions for themselves.”

By Victoria Sun, Winchester Sun

ARLINGTON – Kentucky’s unexpected and improbable run to the national championship game ended with tears and hugs in a solemn locker room.

As confetti swirled around AT&T stadium in celebration of UConn’s 60-54 victory against UK on Monday night, Kentucky players embraced each other and comforted each other as the realization that their tumultuous season was over had finally ended sunk in.

In front of luminaries including former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the Huskies (32-8) pounced on the Wildcats (29-11) and never let up en route to their fourth NCAA title and second in four seasons.

“I’m proud of these guys, and we had our chances to win,” Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari said. “That game stayed a one-point game. We’re missing shots, we’re missing free throws and we hung in there. These kids never gave up.”

The Wildcats missed 11 free throws and admittedly exhibited some jitters early on while competing in their third Final Four in the last four seasons. UK became the first team since Michigan in 1992 to start five freshmen.

UK freshman point guard Andrew Harrison, who finished with eight points, five assists and four turnovers, thought a combination of nerves and UConn’s defensive effort led to the Wildcats’ demise. Kentucky’s 54 points scored was a season low.

“Playing the national championship game your freshman year, it’s pretty tough,” Harrison said quietly.  “But at the same time, they played great defense.”

The Wildcats had no answer for UConn guard Shabazz Napier, who showed why he won the Bob Cousy Award earlier in the day and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Napier had 22 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Usually reliable workhorse Julius Randle had a quiet 10 points, six rebounds, and four assists, but didn’t have the dominating performance that the Wildcats had come to expect from the Southeastern Conference’s freshman of the year.

About midway through the second half, Randle had a senior moment of the geriatric variety. After UConn guard Ryan Boatright made two free throws, Randle gripped the ball with both hands, raised both arms in the air, then turned and hurled the ball into the stands thinking he was throwing to a teammate. That turnover led to dynamic Huskies guard Shabazz Napier hitting another signature pull-up jumper to extend UConn’s lead to 48-39.

As Randle was driven to the post-game press conference on a golf cart, he buried his face in both hands.

“It’s tough, it hurts, man,” Randle said quietly. “I’m proud of everybody. How we fought, it was just unbelievable.”

A year after failing to make the NCAA Tournament last season, there were high expectations for the young Wildcats, due to their impressive freshmen class. But the season was full of highs and lows as Calipari tried to get his inexperienced team to mature.

The Wildcats spent most of the season defending themselves as fans and the media took verbal jabs at them. With seven McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster, they were an extremely talented, inconsistent, and sometimes frustrating bunch, until something clicked during the Southeastern Conference tournament that helped propel them to the championship game.

“It’s been up and down, but at the same time, we fought,” Harrison said. “No one even thought we’d be here.

“The stuff we fought through and the scrutiny we took, it was amazing (that we made it) and this one definitely hurt us, but it’s a bigger picture than that.”

The future of the team is not a subject any of the distraught Wildcats were in the mood to discuss. Several Wildcats, including Randle, and James Young (20 points and seven rebounds) are projected to be first round picks, if they decide to leave school and declare themselves eligible for the NBA Draft. Both were named to the All-Final Four Team.

UK players declined to speculate on what players would return or said they hadn’t given it much thought yet.

“That’s the farthest thing from my mind right now,” Randle said. “My dream was to win a national championship. That was my only focus.”

Calipari will have a season-ending meeting with each player to assess his situation and discuss future plans.

With the tears flowing after the game, Harrison made it a point to express to his teammates how grateful he was for the ride.

“I just walked around and told everybody I love them,” Harrison said. “It’s been the best experience of my life. “

By LARRY VAUGHT

ARLINGTON — As Julius Randle rode in a golf cart on the way to postgame interviews with teammate James Young, he buried his heads in his hands as the tears flowed down his cheeks. At the same time, members of the Kentucky pep band waiting in the AT&T Stadium hallway gave him a huge ovations.

Kentucky may have lost the national championship game 60-54 to Connecticut Monday night, but the Wildcats won a spot in the their fans’ hearts with their gritty play in March that turned a disappointing season into a near miraculous season.

The Wildcats were a No. 8 seed and given no chance to reach the Final Four when March Madness started. But after falling behind 30-15 in the first half — the fifth straight game they were behind by nine or more points — they came roaring back and actually had chances to take the lead in the second half. But missed 11 of 24 free throws, shooting only 39 percent from the field and giving up 17 points off 13 turnovers was just too much to overcome.

“I can’t believe what these guys got done together. Talking about a bunch of young kids that just went out there and believed and believed in each other and just kept fighting,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “I needed to do a better job for these kids today, because they needed more help in this.

“You could tell early on they were feeling the game. One of the things we tried some stuff, pick‑and‑roll, obviously it didn’t work. We had to play zone.  Tried to get their sweat to dry a little bit, make them less aggressive and it worked and these guys performed. They came back, We tried doing different things, but we didn’t have enough answers for these guys to finish that team. Their guard play was outstanding. But again we had our chances and that’s all you can ask of your basketball team.”

He’s right and that’s why he told his team he was proud of them and to hold their heads high despite the loss.

“We know he meant that and eventually this will be okay, but it hurts right now,” point guard Andrew Harrison, who had eight points, five assists, five rebound, three steals and one blocked shot — he also had four turnovers — said in a much softer voice than normal.

“We had a great run. Nothing went wrong tonight. We could have got blown out, but we came back. We are a team full of competitors, but they just made plays and beat us,” freshman center Dakari Johnson said.

Connecticut did make the big plays this time that Kentucky had in wins over Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. When Aaron Harrison had a chance to hit a key 3-pointer in this game, he missed. When Julius Randle drove inside late needing a basket, it came out. When Kentucky desperately needed a defensive rebound with about two minutes to play, it went to UConn.

Kentucky got just two field goals in the final six minutes after cutting the deficit to 51-49 — a big reason the Cats scored a season-low 54 points.

“We always think we are coming back,” Randle, who had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists against UConn’s sagging defense, said. “This time we just didn’t quite get it done.”

“We just kept our heads up and just kept fighting for each other. And we had a couple chances that we had to bring it back and we just kept fighting,” Young said as he sat at his locker with tears running down his cheeks. “This hurts. We’ll get over it, but it hurts.”

Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart hopes fans will remember the remarkable March journey, and not just the ending. He expects a bit crowd at this afternoon’s welcome home celebration in Rupp Arena for a team that started five teenagers and learned how to play as a team as the season went on.

“I am awful proud of them,” Barnhart said. “I don’t know if you could have four more memorable back-to-back games than we did. Those were four pretty spectacular games and fun to watch. It was really good stuff.

“I probably didn’t see this run coming. Not many probably did. These kids had a lot of talent. People questioned their character and heart. The kids responded the right way with a remarkable run. Don’t lose sight of how special that was because of this 60-54 score. We just came up seven point shorts, but it was still a remarkable run.”

It was and give Kentucky credit for making no excuses. No complaints about officiating. No complaints about Willie Cauley-Stein being out with an injury. No complaints about missed shots.

“They played a great game. They hit big shots. Just take your hat off to them. They played better than we did,” sophomore Alex Poythress said.

Calipari had to plead, push and pull this team much of the season. He said he never lost faith in his team, but he often admitted it had not been an easy year and that he had made as many mistakes as his players. But it was obvious, even in this difficult moment, he was proud of what his team did.

“These kids really fought and tried and what they accomplished, I told them, this was the best group I’ve ever coached as far as really being coachable and wanting to learn. I’ve never coached a team this young. Never. Hope I don’t ever again,” Calipari said.

Then he even showed he still had his sense of humor.

“I think all these kids are coming back, so we should be good,” Calipari said.

That’s not going to happen with the NBA big bucks waiting, but it shows that Calipari truly had enjoyed this run.

“We’ve all had so much fun the last month,” Johnson said. “You hate to see it end this way, but what a month it has been. I’ll never forget it.”

Photos by The Associated Press. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online without permission of the owners.

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