Harrison twins returning to Kentucky

Harrison twins returning to Kentucky

Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 5, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Andrew Harrison (left) hugs guard Aaron Harrison (2) after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers in the semifinals of the Final Four in the 2014 NCAA Mens Division I Championship tournament at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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by Kyle Tucker / The Courier Journal

khou.com

Posted on April 25, 2014 at 12:41 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 25 at 1:09 PM

Good luck finding a weakness on the University of Kentucky’s basketball team next season.

In a somewhat surprising move, twin guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison announced Friday they’ll put their NBA dream on hold and return for their sophomore seasons, giving the Wildcats the most loaded college basketball roster in recent memory and almost certainly a preseason No. 1 ranking.

The Harrisons were the last UK players to make their decision public and, in the end, six of the top eight players from this season’s NCAA runner-up – all of whom had a legitimate chance to be drafted – elected to return. Only forward Julius Randle and swingman James Young are leaving early for the NBA.

The Harrisons are the last UK players to make their decision public and, in the end, six of the top eight players from this season’s NCAA runner-up – all of whom had a legitimate chance to be drafted – elected to return. Only forward Julius Randle and swingman James Young are leaving early for the NBA.

With four McDonald’s All-American freshmen coming in, the Cats will have an unprecedented nine burger boys and 10 former top-40 recruits on next year’s team. Remarkably, coach John Calipari, the face of the one-and-done phenomenon, could field a starting lineup next season without a single freshman.

The 6-foot-6 twins and 7-foot center Dakari Johnson, all three starters last season, are sophomores. Swingman Alex Poythress and versatile 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, both starters at various points in their UK careers, will be juniors.

The Cats will return 59.3 percent of their points, 58.7 percent of their rebounds, 67.3 percent of their assists and 82.6 percent of their blocked shots from last season. Compare that to this past season, when UK got back just 31.2 percent of its points, 40.1 percent of its rebounds, 19.5 percent of its assists and 35.5 percent of its blocks.

The Wildcats will have a combined 164 career starts on the roster next season compared to just 46 coming into this season.

Even before the twins’ decision, the Cats were set to be stacked, but they would’ve been imbalanced and perilously thin in the backcourt.

Seven players 6-8 or taller return, five of them McDonald’s All-Americans and three of them 7-footres. If the Harrison twins left, however, UK would’ve had just three scholarship guards.

Now with four McDonald’s All-Americans in the backcourt, too, the Cats are fully stocked with elite talent across the board.

Aaron Harrison started all 40 games last season and averaged 13.7 points, three rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals. He was at his best in the biggest games. After shooting just 30.6 percent from 3-point range in the regular season, he made 48 percent in nine postseason games, including a cool 15 of 30 in the NCAA Tournament.

He became the face of March Madness by sinking a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute of three consecutive games – with 39 seconds left against Louisville in the Sweet 16, four seconds to go against Michigan in the Elite Eight and six seconds remaining against Wisconsin in the Final Four – to send UK to the national title game.

ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford ranked him the No. 33 prospect if he elected to leave school this year. His advice to Aaron Harrison: “Go back and shoot 40 percent from three as a sophomore and sell teams on the fact that he’s a clutch shooter.”

Andrew Harrison started 39 games and averaged 10.9 points, four assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.7 turnovers. He shot just 36.7 percent from the field for the season but also made huge strides in the postseason, after Calipari’s famous “tweak.” He averaged 5.4 assists in nine postseason games compared to 3.5 in the regular season.

Two days after hyperextending his shooting elbow, he scored 20 points against undefeated and No. 1 seed Wichita State in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32. ESPN’s Ford rated him the No. 31 prospect in this draft.

“Not ready,” Ford said. “Saw his draft stock fall from a top-10 pick into the second round. He played better toward the end of the season but not enough to really reclaim his draft stock anywhere close to where it was before. A great year at Kentucky next year could propel especially Andrew back into that territory.”

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