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By LARRY VAUGHT
Craig Brownson has kept a close eye on the way twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison have played at Kentucky this season, but the high school coach admits hearing and seeing the criticism the two have taken at times has been difficult even for him.
“It has definitely been an enjoyment getting to watch them, but then you hear the stuff on media if they have a bad game and you kind of take it personal because you know the expectations of this whole team even though the majority are freshmen can sometimes be unfair,” said Brownson, who came from Texas to Lexington last week to watch the Harrisons play. “So if you see them have a great game, you are real proud of them. If you see them struggle, you just try to send text message to tell them to keep their heads up, keep working.”
Brownson says the “body language” issues with both players were at times misunderstood by fans and at times created by his former players.
“They are such competitors. I think at a certain point it is misunderstood, but it’s also something that we also talked about in high school to always have a winning face because it projects a positive image,” Brownson said. “I think it is something they have worked on for a number of years and they are getting better at it. Again, they are 19. They are still learning. As long as they continue to learn and get better, that’s all that matters. But no matter their body language, they want to win. Never doubt that.”
While UK fans had huge expectations for the twins and UK, so did fans who know the Harrisons back in Texas.
“You hear people say even around our school that they are not having that great a year. Wait. They are starting for one of the top teams in the country as freshmen,” Brownson said. “People don’t understand how hard that is and the adjustment from high school to college. They expect them to be able to do things they did in high school, but they are playing against grown men out here now. Not boys and high school kids. It is a lot different.”
What does he think they have done best this year?
“Aaron has been very consistent. He has really impressed me with his consistency and double figure scoring about every game. He doesn’t force things. Sometimes he passes up shots I think he should take because he is open but I am sure that is what coach Cal has told him to do,” the Texas high school coach said.
“Andrew has been consistent in trying to run the team and getting the ball to people. I think he struggled early trying to find his niche and aggressiveness versus getting everyone involved. But again, they have both gotten better as the season has gone on and that’s what you want for your players even if some don’t want to see the improvement and growth they have made.”
He says they both have to learn to forget mistakes — “a turnover, not boxing out, missing a shot” — and play on.
“Effort-wise, they are always competing. I don’t see a game where they are not busting their butt to get a loose ball or getting on the floor. Watching Aaron hit his head the other day (against LSU) and then come back out and dive on the floor on the other end. I was watching that and you get scared for him but that’s how he plays,” Brownson said. “I just think because it is big-time college sports, I just think the expectations are way too much for a bunch of 18-year-old kids, including them.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Coach Craig Brownson assumed based on the way twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison have played for Travis High School in Texas that they would be in line for postseason honors. However, even the coach has been impressed by the all-star invitations the two Kentucky signees have received.
They will play in the McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago, Jordan Brand Classic in Brooklyn and Nike Hoop Summit in Portland.
“I just always assumed they would be McDonald’s All-Americans, but I never knew for sure,” said Brownson, who plans to be in Chicago with his wife for the April 3 game. “I knew they were on the nominee list. Actually, I think having twin brothers playing probably helps sell the games even more. It’s a no-brainer for media coverage, but they were also both very deserving for their fantastic seasons and careers. Hopefully, this is just the start of fantastic things for them.”
At the Nike Hoop Summit, they will play against a team of world all-star players.
“That was a heck of an honor. I didn’t know that much about the game, but once I found out I knew what a big deal that was,” Brownson said. “They did some summer stuff with Team USA last year and this is a huge honor for them and hopefully a step toward representing our country down the road in the Olympics.”
They will obviously be teammates the Nike Hoop Summit and will play on the same team in the McDonald’s All-American Game. However, they will be on opposite teams in the Jordan Brand Classic.
“I don’t know why they would put two players from the same house on different teams, but they did,” Brownson said. “They have played against each other in some camps, but that doesn’t happen very often.”
Brownson actually coached against his players in an all-star game held in conjunction with the 2012 Final Four and he found it odd the two didn’t play often together in that game. “They know each other so well, you want them playing together,” Brownson said.
Andrew Harrison’s play has been limited this season by a hamstring he pulled a few weeks after playing in the Marshall County Hoop Fest in Benton Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
“He missed a couple of games, came back, hurt it again. It has been a nagging injury,” Brownson said. “Aaron has had a great yar. He’s averaging bout 24 points a game. Andrew is finally as close to as healthy as he has been but it has been a hard year for him. Speed and power are so much of his game and it was tough for him not playing. He is such a competitor.
“And once he went down, defenses just loaded up on Aaron. It’s been a challenging year for both of them, but hopefully they have learned through adversity and this year will turn out to be a blessing for them at Kentucky because of what they have learned.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s been asked so many times about what makes twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison special, but even now coach Craig Brownson says that’s not an easy answer.
“Where do I start. Their skill set is different. They can handle the ball. Both shoot it well. At 6-5, they are both are big guards. They are both so strong and play so physical. They have the ability to create contact and understand how to use their size to finish plays,” said Brownson. “They both have a very high basketball IQ. They are just very good players and do so many things well that’s impossible even now for me to say what they do best.
“Andrew can score if he needs to even though he’s the point guard. In the state championship game Aaron was shut out pretty well and Andrew scored 22,23 points. If Andrew is not in, Aaron can bring up the ball. He is also very unselfish and has good court vision. They can play either spot.
“If they do happen down the road to make the NBA, they can both be combo guards. They have a different mentality. Andrew is always looking to get somebody shots and get the ball to players. Aaron is unselfish, but when he is feeling it he can light it up in a hurry.”
The twins came from Richmond, Texas, with their Travis High School teammates to play in the Marshall County Hoop Fest Friday and Saturday nights. They beat Ballard and Madison Central, two of Kentucky’s highest ranked teams.
“They are intense competitors. That’s what separates them so much. Their skills are great, but the mentality they have is so special,” Brownson said. “They can have fun if they want to have fun. They handle things so well in front of the cameras and with interviews. They enjoyed recruiting but were relieved to have it done so they could have some peace and enjoy the season. One of them told me during the recruiting before they picked Kentucky that they realized they wanted it to be about our team, not them, this season. They are just two great kids and like hanging with their friends. They are so mature.”
That maturity shows on the court, too.
“They always know where each other are on the court. That’s why they play so well together,” Brownson said. “They also get on each other more than a normal person would. They have high expectations for each other. It makes for an interesting dynamic with them.
“And they are also very good students. They are continuing to get better at that, too. Some of the classes they really like, some they don’t like as much. But they get the job done in the classroom and will at Kentucky. They are just normal kids. To be so talented, but never want to be treated different makes it so much easier on me. They could be a headache if they wanted to be. They could cause sleepless nights for me, but they don’t. They love their teammates. They are such competitors they raise the bar for everybody. That makes everybody better. I thank them for that. That is important for our team chemistry and my peace of mind.”
Brownson was not surprised the twins chose to play for Kentucky and signed with the Wildcats in November. Both are rated among the nation’s top five players in most recruiting rankings.
“I think the opportunity to play for a national champion was so big. Not that Maryland couldn’t do it with them, but you walk into Kentucky based on the past few years know you will be playing on a talented team that is very well coached and will play in front of some of the most rabid fans in the country,” Brownson said. “You also have the prospect of making the NBA with the track record there with players.
“I know they really liked (Maryland) coach Mark Turgeon and respect the job he’s done and have family in Maryland, but it is just hard to go against Kentucky. It’s one of those rare basketball powerhouses. I think that chance to win the national championship was big. They are such big competitors that don’t like to lose and they really hope to play for a national championship.”