Harrison's shot proves Cats' growth
There's more to Aaron Harrison's game-winning 3-pointer than meets the eye
ARLINGTON, Texas -- He didn't want the ball. He needed it.
Aaron Harrison clapped to get his twin Andrew Harrison's attention as the latter drove through a bunch of Badgers and sought refuge in the final seconds. Andrew could see the smirk on his twin's face. It was a good sign.
Josh Gasser pursued. Aaron hesitated.
"I didn't know how much time was on the clock," said Aaron, who nailed the game-winning 3-pointer with 6 seconds to play in Kentucky's 74-73 win over Wisconsin in Saturday's national semifinal at AT&T Stadium. "I just wanted to get a little look at it. So I just rose up and took the shot."
Kentucky coach John Calipari refused to call a timeout. But throughout this tourney, he's dared his young players to create plays that feature Aaron -- his freshman sharpshooter. This is the same young man who ended Michigan's dreams with a 3-pointer in the final seconds of an Elite Eight victory somewhere on the arc with the ball in his hands. So his brother gave it to him.
"I just knew he was, like, smiling when he was dribbling the ball," Andrew said. "He's crazy. I don't understand him."
It's nothing new for those who know Aaron. He's a 19-year-old without a conscience. Some players run from that pressure. Aaron chases it.
He had the same attitude in elementary school.
"Third or fourth grade, he hit one to win the national championship," said Aaron Harrison Sr., who attended Saturday's game. "That's just his personality. He believes he's going to make every shot he takes. That's just him. That's who he is."
But that's who they all are, really.
Aaron's shot was magnificent and it extended this remixed season -- as rapper Drake, who attended the game, might say, they started from the bottom (see losses to Arkansas, South Carolina), now they're here -- but there was a humbling process that preceded it. At some point, the Wildcats had to conquer the brazen, unbridled egos that most teenagers battle.
In clutch situations, Aaron gets the ball now. But the Wildcats had to be selfless enough -- become selfless enough -- to defer when necessary.
"It just goes to show you the sacrifices of this team," Julius Randle said. "Everybody, per se, knows their roles. And everybody wants what's best for each other. And in that situation, we want Aaron taking that shot."
It's easy to come together when the pieces all form like Voltron. It's more difficult to create an efficient hierarchy that facilitates on-court success when everyone wants to be Batman, though.
There are six former McDonald's All-Americans in Calipari's freshman class. Sophomore Alex Poythress is a former McDonald's All-American, and fellow second-year player Willie Cauley-Stein is a future first-round pick.
Each player on this Kentucky roster entered the year with the same expectation. When the lights come on, they all want to close the show and earn the curtain call.
That's what stars desire. They hope to shine when situations that require a hero arise.
But what happens when seven or eight guys all bring capes and costumes to Lexington?
"We all were high schools stars and the leading scorers for our team," Dominique Hawkins said. "Just finding your role is pretty difficult."
In the team's early practices, the Wildcats were all so brash and out of sync that they couldn't throw a simple alley-oop to one another. Too many emcees, not enough mics.
"We couldn't throw a lob to save our life at the beginning of practice," Poythress said.
They clearly had the talent to justify their preseason No. 1 ranking, but those early sessions together offered a snapshot of how difficult it would be to reach that potential when the basics were so arduous.
"You see the shot clock on the top of the rim? [Our lobs] were over there," Marcus Lee said. "On the other side of the court. We had rough times getting that down. If I had tape of it, I would laugh at it."
Losses to South Carolina and Arkansas weren't humorous. Even then, the Wildcats realized that they could do what they've done in the past three weeks. But they also recognized that they were far from that bar.
For the past month, Calipari has touted a mysterious tweak that changed the program. But a players-only meeting helped, too. Maybe it mattered more than the tweak.
Prior to the SEC tourney, the Wildcats met alone. They talked about the drama they'd experienced thus far. They discussed how important it would be to ignore the chatter about their failures entering the postseason. And they also conversed about egos.
Any remnant of the "get mine" attitude that affects many athletes had to be dismissed. Now.
"I feel like when we had the players-only meetings, I feel like everybody just spoke their mind, spoke what was on their heart to what was troubling them," Poythress said. "I feel like we came together as a team."
Added Jarrod Polson: "We've put all of our egos to the side, especially as of late."
The Kumbaya turn, however, had to involve more than grand goals. The Wildcats had to get real about their specific roles.
And then, they had to embrace them.
Aaron's role now? The guy who gets the rock when the game is on the line -- and in the final minutes, it's always on the line, it seems, with this reborn Kentucky team. (These Wildcats are the first team ever to win four consecutive games by five points or fewer in a single NCAA tournament.)
He's surrounded by a crew of players who've suppressed their inner protagonists to encourage one of their own to step forward and play a solo that's turned a raggedy band into a symphony.
Aaron can take the last shot. And everyone in that Kentucky locker room approves of that.
That mentality had to cover the roster before Saturday night's win, and the program's second national title game appearance in three years, could materialize.
"We really didn't know who was going to be the big guy to take the shot [earlier this season]," Hawkins said. "We know now because you see Aaron, he's hitting all these big shots, though. In the beginning of the season, we really were going through our bumps and all that crazy stuff because we didn't know who to give the ball to. We were still trying to figure it out. And now we're figuring it out, and that's why we're in the national championship."
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