Harrisons make Kentucky a title favorite

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
4:04
PM ET


It’s here. Again.

The Kentucky buzz. The Wildcats hype.

You can’t stop it.

On Friday, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison announced their plans to come back for their sophomore seasons.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesThe Harrison twins will provide leadership and even more elite skill to Kentucky's team next season.
On Friday, Kentucky again became the preseason favorite to win the national title.

Doesn’t matter what Las Vegas says. Doesn’t matter if the haters disagree.

Sorry Duke, Arizona and Wisconsin. Kentucky appears to be the team to beat in 2014-15.

Earlier this week, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress chose to return for another season, too. Injured center Willie Cauley-Stein had already committed to returning for his junior season.

Karl Towns and Trey Lyles, a pair of five-star prospects, are two of the top big men in the 2014 class. They’ll be in Lexington, too. But the Harrison twins were the missing pieces.

Who would toss the ball to the Wu Tang Clan of college basketball frontcourts (Marcus Lee will also be in the mix), many wondered, as the brothers considered their futures? Who would run things if the two young stars from Texas decided to turn pro?

Most of those concerns were dismissed Friday. Kentucky now has everything it needs to pursue its ninth national title. The Harrisons matured throughout the season, and by the end of the season, they were the stars who helped the Wildcats reach the national title game.

So, John Calipari has another gold mine. His greatest challenge will involve his rotations, especially in the frontcourt. But Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker, a pair of McDonald’s All American guards, didn’t sign with Kentucky to sit on the bench. Any player who attends Kentucky in the Calipari Era probably expects a fight for minutes. Doesn’t mean they like it.

There was a similar concern last season, when Calipari signed six McDonald’s All Americans who didn’t figure things out until it mattered most.

But this year is different, now that the Harrisons are back.

This is Andrew Harrison’s team.

In both 2013 and 2014, Kentucky’s collection of prep superstars suffered from a lack of leadership. Underclassmen leading underclassmen is never the preference for any program. That was, however, the reality for Calipari’s programs in those two seasons.

But Andrew Harrison took control down the stretch last season. He’s young, but he’s also now respected in the locker room as a leader. And Poythress and Cauley-Stein will help him with that assignment, too.

That’s a significant component in the early discussions about Calipari’s rotations. First, rotations are always easier to create when the third and fourth guys off the bench are NBA prospects. That creates an opportunity for balanced substitutions and limited drop-off.

Plus, Calipari will bring more experience off the bench. That helped his team in 2013-14 when Poythress played a key reserve role.

Calipari is less important than Andrew Harrison, however, in regard to rotations and minutes. That’s a locker room issue.

And Andrew Harrison is a presence in the locker room. The Wildcats admitted that they had stretches last season when egos interrupted their progress. Then they all came together prior to the SEC tournament. They were selfless in the postseason. Finally.

Trey Lyles
Courtesy of Jerry HoltTrey Lyles is part of another top-level recruiting class and will be part of Kentucky's deep frontcourt.
Lee rarely played throughout the season, but when Calipari called on him in the NCAA tournament, he was ready. Poythress never pouted about coming off the bench. And when the team needed someone to take a big shot in the final seconds of tight games in the NCAA tourney, they all turned to Aaron Harrison, even though they all could have demanded the rock and the moment.

Some feelings might be hurt in 2014-15. That can happen with any team. But that won’t dominate the locker room and disrupt Kentucky’s potential.

Andrew Harrison won’t allow that to happen.

Sure, he’s still young. But he’s the catalyst for everything that could happen for Kentucky basketball in 2014-15. And his brother, Aaron Harrison, is the star among stars that fueled that run to North Texas.

With Kentucky, the hoopla usually becomes irrational at some point. There was talk about 40-0 last year. Outrage ensued as a result of that chatter.

Still, the Wildcats were the No. 1 team in the major preseason polls. We believed in them. Many expected them to run through the season and end the year with the national title.

That didn’t happen. They were also younger and less experienced than next season’s squad will bed. This stacked recruiting class won’t have to lead. They can just play. There’s less pressure now.

That combination of experience, talent and elite incoming prospects will create another Kentucky commotion in the months before the season. Some will subscribe to the anticipation that points to another Final Four and maybe more for Kentucky. Others will reference the stumbles of the two previous seasons and reject it.

That’s fine, but you can’t find another program that looks as strong as Kentucky does right now.

So you can hop on the bandwagon or dismiss it.

But it’s coming.

Well, really, it’s here.

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