While the UK men’s basketball team was bombarded with confetti and “One Shinning Moment” blared from the Superdome loudspeakers following the school’s eighth national championship in April, one Wildcat was not on the court celebrating with his teammates.
He wasn’t in the locker room later as players celebrated without the eyes of Big Blue Nation on them.
He was in a car with his mother driving from New Orleans to Lexington.
“Me and my mom left right before it was over,” said sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow in a preseason interview with KyForward. “We had to get back on the road because I had to be at class.”
Ryan Harrow. (Photo by Jon Hale)
Harrow sat out the 2011-12 season as a transfer from NC State. NCAA rules prohibited him from traveling with the team while he was ineligible to play.
He was able to see most of the two Final Four games because he and his mother drove to New Orleans to watch from the stands.
“It was hard, but I was happy for them all at the same time,” Harrow said. “I know how hard that we all worked to get to that point. Me not being out there to play with them, that was the worst part. I was happy that they worked that hard and that was the outcome.”
The drive from New Orleans to Lexington while his teammates celebrated a title capped off a roller coaster first year as a Wildcat for Harrow.
Harrow began his collegiate career at NC State, where he averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists as a freshman.
When he decided to transfer, Harrow was attracted to UK because of John Calipari’s history of developing great point guards. At that point, Calipari had coached three consecutive point guards who were lottery picks in the NBA draft. Since then Calipari has sent two more point guards to the NBA as first-round picks.
While transfers who are not eligible to play in games might take a back seat in practice at most programs, that was not the case for Harrow. He began preseason practices working against UK’s starting point guard, Marquis Teague. When games started and Harrow expected his practice role to diminish so Calipari could get more work for players who were eligible to play, he was surprised.
“I still got a lot of work because Coach Cal wanted me on the floor,” he said. “I thought that it would be better if the people that actually played were on the floor, but he always yelled at me to get out there and be a part of it.”
With Harrow now in position to be the next “Calipari point guard,” the year of practice was invaluable.
“He got beat up,” Calipari said in a preseason roundtable interview with local media. “He played against a pit bull every day who just was letting him know.”
“It was good playing against (Teague) because he was so strong,” Harrow said. “Playing against a strong player like him, it made it better for me to get around him or play through the bumps and having to dodge him on defense. We helped each other.”
Harrow was also able to spend extra time in the weight room.
His teammates have noticed a difference, especially senior guard Julius Mays, who was a sophomore at NC State while Harrow was being recruited to play there.
“The last time I saw Ryan he was a little stick,” Mays said. “You can finally see that he’s got a little mass to him.”
“He’s definitely improved a lot,” said junior guard Jarrod Polson. “He’s worked hard in the weight room. That was a big thing that a lot of people said: he’s a little too short or things like that.”
Harrow has a reputation as a pass-first point guard, but Calipari has a scoring role in mind for him as well.
“I want Ryan to be the best layup shooter in the SEC,” he said. “I don’t need any cuteness. Get to the basket and shoot layups. If they absolutely back off like they tried to play Marquis Teague, (Harrow) shoots it a little bit better.”
He might also surprise fans with his leaping ability.
“He’s been jumping since he was in high school,” said former Wildcat Doron Lamb this summer. “He’s been on all the YouTube, hoop mix tapes, dunking on everybody. In college though, it’s going to be a little harder to dunk of everybody. He should have a good chance of dunking on a few people this year.”
For all the improvements he made during his transfer year, Harrow has not played in an official game since March. 10, 2011. By the time he suits up for his first regular season game as a Wildcat on Nov. 9 against Maryland, Harrow will have been out of game action for 610 days.
“I took a year off, so I’ve got to get back accustomed to playing in that type of environment, playing that long and stuff like that,” Harrow said. “I think I’m ready and I know what Coach Cal wants, but I’ve just got to get out there first.”
When the season starts, Harrow’s focus will shift from being in game shape to leading his team as it attempts to win another national championship.
He will also face the normal comparisons for Calipari point guards.
Each of the three primary point guards on Calipari’s UK teams have averaged at least 10 points and four assists per game. Last season, Teague averaged 10 points and 4.8 assists per game while shooting 41.2 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three-point range.
In the 2010-11 season, Brandon Knight averaged 17.3 points and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three-point range.
In the 2009-10 season, Former NBA No. 1 pick John Wall averaged 16.6 points and 6.5 assists per game while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three-point range.
All those guards played for Calipari as freshmen. Harrow has the benefit of a year of practice before his first season of play.
“I think the biggest thing was just learning the system from Coach Cal and learning what he expects from his point guards,” Harrow said.
UK’s top returning scorer thinks Harrow is ready for the challenge.
“He’s a great point guard,” said sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer. “He’s able to find us. He knows where all of us want to score.”
If everything goes to plan for Harrow and his teammates, he hopes that the next time UK cuts down the nets following a national championship he will be in the middle of the celebration.
“Being that I couldn’t play last year, I want to get back to that position to win a national championship, but I think if we put that pressure on ourselves it will be too much and we won’t do as well,” he said. “We’re just trying to worry about this team and not last year.”
In the two weeks before Big Blue Madness, KyForward sports editor Jon Hale will be previewing the 2012-13 UK men’s basketball series with a profile of each of the 12 Wildcats as well as other features to get you ready for the team’s attempt to repeat as National Champions. Previous profiles in the series have focused on Willie Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel and Alex Poythress. On the KyForward UK Sports Tumblr you can read more from the one-on-one interview with Ryan Harrow. Tomorrow’s profile looks at Sam Malone and Brian Long.