LEXINGTON (AP) — Kentucky guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison feel they have unfinished business with the Wildcats and want to become better college players.
So now that they’re back on campus for another year after putting their NBA dreams on hold for the moment, the 6-foot-6 twins want to help Kentucky with another national title.
Having the Harrisons in the lineup is critical for a Kentucky team eyeing another deep tournament run after losing 60-54 to Connecticut in the NCAA championship. Besides adding height to an otherwise small Wildcats backcourt, the twins appear more at ease in preparation for a six-game, eight-day exhibition tour in the Bahamas that starts Sunday.
The Harrisons want to build on the cohesion that helped spark Kentucky’s tournament run last year, highlighted by Aaron’s clutch 3-pointers in back-to-back games on passes from Andrew.
“Just having another year to play with my brother, that was the big thing,” Aaron Harrison said Wednesday of the decision-making process. “I just wanted to make sure I was ready. I know I can play better in the college game, so I just wanted to go out there and win a national championship.”
Their current focus is preparing for the Bahamas tour, where the Wildcats will face older, more experienced teams from Puerto Rico, France and the Dominican Republic. Kentucky coach John Calipari jokingly suggested those veteran squads could run the table against his youngsters, who will play without 7-foot junior Willie Cauley-Stein (ankle) and 6-10 freshman Trey Lyles (left leg).
At the same time there’s no substitute for higher competition, and Calipari is eager to see how his Wildcats will look with much of last year’s heralded freshman class back. Especially the Harrisons, who had been projected as first-round draft picks.
“Me, as a leader, I’m going to go down there and try to win every game every time I step on the court,” Andrew Harrison said. “I’m going to make sure my teammates are focused and ready to play.”
While their tournament heroics boosted their draft prospects, the consensus was that both could benefit from another year of college experience. Kentucky’s wild fan base was subsequently relieved and jubilant when they announced their returns.
Calipari warned them that hard work was ahead answering questions about their skills. Judging from summer workouts, the coach said the Harrisons have addressed some obvious physical concerns.
“They’ve lost weight, so they’re more athletic and they’re playing faster,” Calipari said. “They already know what we’re trying to do, there’s no anxiety. They’re comfortable out on the court, where last year they were trying to figure themselves out and that’s why they had that body language stuff.
“You don’t see any of that this year, unless it’s toward each other.”
Aaron Harrison conceded that adjusting to Kentucky and the high expectations was hard as a freshman. Things didn’t improve until the lifelong relationship between the twins finally clicked and the Wildcats began stringing together NCAA tournament wins.
Just like that, the game became fun again.
Since the final, both have become more committed to their development by avoiding temptations such as late-night fast food runs in favor of more sleep. They’ve also seemed to embrace the environment, talking more about where the program can go after falling short against UConn.
That’s important as Kentucky breaks in another top-five recruiting class. The twins insist that communication won’t be an issue, and there’s every reason to believe they’ll be on the same page.
“I’ll be a lot more comfortable and a lot more relaxed out there,” Aaron Harrison said. “We’ll just be able to go out there and have fun and just worry about the game, and not worry about anything else.”