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After three weeks of vague reports about a mystery illness, an absence from the team to deal with a family issue and at least one previous prediction of a return to practice, UK sophomore guard Ryan Harrow appears ready to play again.
Harrow, who missed practice time in advance of UK’s season opener versus Maryland with “flu-like symptoms,” then played just 10 minutes against the Terrapins, returned to full practice activities Sunday for the first time since the opener. Harrow had been held out of practice and games while he worked to recover from an illness that doctors have yet to explain.
Harrow appeared close to a return last week according to UK head coach John Calipari, but before UK’s game versus Morehead State Harrow left Lexington to deal with a family issue at home.
On Wednesday, Harrow spoke to reporters for the first time since his confounding medical saga began.
“I’m just happy to be back,” he said. “That’s all I can say really: happy to be back with the team, happy to be able to play. I just want to focus on the rest of the season.”
His recent bout with the mystery illness is nothing new for Harrow. He said he generally gets sick around this time every year.
During January of his senior year of high school, Harrow passed out during a game and was hospitalized due to dehydration. As a freshman at NC State, he missed two games due to illness. While sitting out as a transfer last season, he missed a week of practice due to a similar ailment.
Harrow hoped to avoid getting sick this year by taking a flu shot, but that even strategy produced no different results.
“I don’t like needles, but I tried to get it this year and it still didn’t work,” he said. “It is just something that happens every year.”
Now that he’s once again practicing with his teammates, Harrow is working to earn back his playing time.
His coach is uncertain how much Harrow is ready to play.
“He’s done good in practice, but to say that he’s ready for that, I don’t know yet,” Calipari said. “We’ll see. I may throw him in that Notre Dame game just to see where he is.”
Harrow faced speculation that the stress of dealing with the pressure of being a point guard for Calipari and following NBA stars like John Wall, Derrick Rose, Brandon Knight and Tyreke Evans in the system was contributing to his illness and absence from the team. While he didn’t completely rule that out as a factor, Harrow said he has no doubts about playing for UK.
“I think almost wherever I was at, since I had such a big high school following, that everybody would still be looking at me,” he said. “What’s Ryan doing or where is Ryan at? No matter where I was at. So, why not be at the best place as in Kentucky?”
Some of that speculation resulted from Harrows admitted skepticism about the ESPN All-Access show that followed the team during preseason practices and a subsequent episode of the show that focused on Calipari’s efforts to get Harrow to play tougher.
Harrow didn’t watch the last two episodes of the three-episode series because he knew they would feature lots of footage of Calipari yelling at him, but he said the show only depicted part of his relationship with his coach.
“You all didn’t see the part where me and him just go sit in the office and talk,” he said. “You don’t see the part where me and him are hugging after practice and he’s telling me I did a good job.
“(It was) the yelling part that everybody wants to see. That’s only half our relationship. Me and Coach Cal have developed a better relationship over time.”
Harrow thinks Calipari has yelled at him as much as ever since his return to practice, but he also thinks Calipari is making an effort to remind him when he does something good.
Calipari isn’t aware of any change.
“I don’t believe so,” he said. “He had just been gone so long that you start thinking everything I said was negative. I’m coaching him exactly the same.”
Harrow’s first chance to show if the perceived change has any effect may come Thursday when he and his teammates face their first true road test of the season at Notre Dame.
Calipari doesn’t know what to expect from his young team in that atmosphere. While the Wildcats faced a hostile crowd in Brooklyn against Maryland, Calipari says Thursday will be completely different.
“They probably had 60 percent of the fans (in Brooklyn),” he said. “We still had 40 (percent). We may have 40 people in the building there. This will be a new experience for them. I’m anxious to see how they respond.”
Whether that response includes Harrow remains to be seen, but he thinks he is ready to perform if called upon.
“I know I still have some stuff to learn because there was new offense added, but if (Calipari) thinks that I need to play, I’ll be out there ready to play,” he said. “If not, then you’ll seem another cheerleader sitting on the bench.”
You can read the full transcript of Calipari’s pre-Notre Dame comments on the KyForward UK Sports Notebook Tumblr.