It was right there, on national television. ESPN’s cameras caught it, big as life: Ryan Harrow, slapping hands with John Calipari as the player subbed out of Kentucky’s 74-46 blowout of Portland Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena.
Whatever they’re doing, apparently, it’s working.
Harrow and Calipari have been working to reach some sort of, if not middle ground, then an area just short of where they had been when the All-Access cameras caught the UK coach blistering the sophomore point guard, who subsequently left the team for a brief period of time.
Of course, “blistering” is a relative term. The previous head coach gave WKYT “all access” for a few days (it quickly eroded to “limited access” to “get out of here”). Our cameras caught interaction between Billy Gillispie and his players that made Calipari’s treatment of his guys look like a campfire sing-along.
Still, Harrow wasn’t handling it well and his on-court performance suffered for it. Since his return, player and coach seem to be connecting better and that’s a good thing for this Kentucky team.
UK’s nosedive from the Top 25 made national headlines, so clearly the nation (as in, entire basketball, not just Big Blue) can see this Wildcat squad is nowhere near the level of proficiency that last year’s team showed, even at this point, and will have to improve enormously to approach Final Four potential.
And it’s evident that the Cats can’t get there without Harrow at the point.
Even against a modestly-talented team such as Portland, the Wildcats had a hard time getting into a smoothly-flowing offense without Harrow, who finished with season highs of eight points, four rebounds and six assists in 25 minutes. Perhaps most importantly, he committed just one turnover.
Not surprisingly, Harrow’s play was the subject of the first question put to Calipari after the game. “ I liked it,” the coach said. “He had two lapses of his old self. I absolutely jerked him out of the game because he's not playing that way. The other parts of the game, I thought he did fine.”
Indeed, the cameras didn’t miss that, either, as coach provided player with a piece of his mind while the two stood together on the sideline, before Harrow took his seat on the bench. What Calipari deplored was a lack of energy by Harrow, both on offense and defense. But, he said, that only happened on a couple of occasions.
“The rest of the game he didn't do it. He pushed the ball ahead, flew it up the court, stayed in a stance, bothered the ball,” Calipari said. “But it’s really hard to play that way.”
If it was easy, anybody could do it.
But for Harrow, it’s starting to come to him a little easier. “I’m just starting to listen to (Calipari) more and accept what he is saying and do whatever is best for the team,” said Harrow, who says he can feel the offense clicking when he’s on the court.
“Archie (Goodwin) has a scoring mentality,” he said. “I’m more about finding who is open, and if they’re open I need to get them the ball as soon as possible. I think everybody played well today.”
Goodwin awakened the crowd late with two monstrous dunks that came in the latter stages of the game, when matters had been decided. (The great Skip Carey, who used to broadcast games for the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, once referred to this part of blowouts as, “cocktail hour.”) It was a brief illustration of what’s possible with Goodwin out ahead of a Harrow-led break, instead of bringing the ball down the floor himself
“We don't get any easy baskets when (Harrow) is not in the game,” Calipari said.
And Harrow is all too happy to distribute the basketball, especially to Goodwin.
“He’s unstoppable on the fast break,” Harrow said. “I’ll find him. I’ll find anyone if they are open. As long as I have the ball and am getting it to them, they’re going to do their best.”
And the Wildcats know it.
“You can see it in his play,” Nerlens Noel said of Harrow. “He is really coming together.”
UK fans wondered if graduate student Julius Mays, brought in to be a shooting guard, might have to spend some time at the point as well. Count him among the Wildcats who see the difference in Harrow, and realize their fortunes are inextricably linked to him.
“It's all about getting his confidence back, coming and playing, and being who he is and not trying to be anyone else,” Mays said. “When Ryan is being Ryan, we could be a very good team.”
Maybe even Final Four good.
(Dick Gabriel is in his 24th year with the UK TV and Radio network. He can be heard each Monday-Friday on The Big Blue Insider from 6-8 p.m. on 630 WLAP-AM, wlap.com and I Heart Radio.)