After a disastrous season for Kentucky that saw them lose 12 games, miss the NCAA tournament, and lose in the first round of the NIT, the Wildcats have reloaded with one of the most heralded freshman classes in history. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, Chris Mannix profiles two of the highly touted recruits who hope to help Kentucky win a title for the second time in three years—super-twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison.
The Harrisons are 6’5”, 210 pound All-American guards from Richmond, Texas. Aaron is the scorer and the country’s top-ranked shooting guard by Rivlas.com, while Andrew is a playmaker, and top-ranked point guard in the nation. Mannix finds that the Harrisons posses many of the leadership qualities there were missing from this year’s Kentucky team.
John Lucas, the former NBA coach who leads workout sessions loaded with NBA Players, has worked with the twins in Houston for the last four years. He has only let four high schoolers consistently work out with pros: Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and the Harrisons. He says: “They are killers. Their competitiveness is unbelievable. They only care about winning.” (PAGE 46)
The twins chose Kentucky in large part due to coach John Calipari, who was very direct with the family from the start. Father Aaron Harrison Sr., who taught his boys the game and was a regular on the Houston rec league circuit, says: “He (Calipari) told Aaron and Andrew, ‘I need guards to get it done here. I want you, I need you, but Kentucky isn’t for everybody. You come here, you are going to work.’” (PAGE 48)
Since 2009-10, Kentucky has had more one-and-done players (9) than any other program in the nation. Many, including Harrison Sr., believe the twins could enter the draft after one season at Kentucky. He says: “You go to college to make money to earn a living. If [Aaron and Andrew] have an opportunity to do that in one year, why would I stop them? I sent them to Kentucky because I think it’s the best system to play basketball. Let’s not sugar coat it and say they are going to be doctors.” (PAGE 48)
The Harrisons and four other Top 100 recruits will join four returning starters in Lexington next season. “That’s as talented a young team as I have ever seen,” says a Division 1 assistant coach. “If they come together like Cal thinks, it’s game over. No one is going to be able to beat them.” (PAGE 48)
Aaron Harrison agrees: “We’re going down to win a national championship. All of us who are going there, we talk about it, we know that’s what we are going there to do. We know we will have a target on our backs. But we like that kind of pressure.” (PAGE 48)
There are three reasons a recruit goes to Kentucky: To win, to play with great players and to get to the NBA. A combination of all those factors lured the Wildcats’ four starting freshmen to Lexington, and under John Calipari’s coaching, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin and Willie Cauley-Stein are just starting to roll, learning to thrive playing the college game. Chris Mannix breaks down what each brings to the team.
Over the last three years 21 players have been selected in the first round of the NBA draft after finishing their freshman seasons. Nine (42.9%) have been from Kentucky, and the trend will likely continue with this year’s group. Says one NBA executive from a Western Conference team, “I’ll be watching Kentucky all season. It’s NBA U” (page 46).
The Kentucky Wildcats survived an intrastate showdown with the Louisville Cardinals in the national semifinals and a furious rally from the Kansas Jayhawks in the national championship game to win their first NCAA basketball title since 1998. The champion Wildcats appear on the cover of the April 9, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now. This is the twelfth time that Kentucky basketball has appeared on the cover.
Kentucky, which started three freshmen and two sophomores, proved to everyone that a team this young could be poised enough to win a championship. The victory also put to rest the question whether coach John Calipari could win “the big one.”
The accomplishment was a team effort, conceived by Calipari and implemented by his team. Senior writer Kelli Anderson writes, “The Wildcats led the nation in blocked shots (344), field-goal-percentage defense (37.4%) and scoring margin (16.8 points), but the stat Calipari likes to tout the most was this: He had seven players who put up 20 points a game in high school, yet none of them averaged more than 9.3 shots this season. And all seven led the team in scoring at least once.”
Commentary on Twitter on National Championship night:
Seth Davis: @SethDavisHoops
“Lotta debate ahead but I say this is the best team of this millennium. Fla ’07 is second. NC ’09 is third.”
Andy Glockner: @AndyGlockner
“Good ballgame. Congrats to Kentucky, very worthy champ. Kansas was game, but not quite good enough.”
Amanda Younger: ayounger45
“Regardless of how you feel about Coach Cal/Kentucky, there’s no denying the best team in college hoops won.”
Andy Staples: @AndyStaples
“Anthony Davis made 1 of 10 shots. He also won Most Outstanding Player. He deserved it.”
Tim Layden: @SITimLayden
“2011′s Lamb: UConn’s Jeremy with door-slamming dunk. 2012′s Lamb: Kentucky’s Doron with 3 key threes”
Richard Deitsch: @RichardDeitsch
Sixteen years ago this week, Antonie Walker was on the cover of SI under the headline BLUE HEAVEN
Stocked with NBA-caliber talent at every position, it’s national championship or bust for North Carolina, which tops the Top 20 of Sports Illustrated’s 2011 College Basketball Preview, dated Nov. 14, 2011, and on newsstands now.
|1. UNC||5. Duke||9. Vanderbilt||13. Wisconsin||17. Cincinnati|
|2. Kentucky||6. Florida||10. Louisville||14. Baylor||18. Arizona|
|3. Ohio State||7. Pittsburgh||11. Memphis||15. UCLA||19. Florida State|
|4. UConn||8. Syracuse||12. Kansas||16. Xavier||20. Alabama|