LEXINGTON - University of Kentucky senior center Josh Harrellson is adjusting to new-found celebrity quite nicely.
In a matter of some four-plus days, the 6-foot-11 native of St. Charles, Missouri, has gone from a somewhat plodding role player to Louisville killer, double-double man and, gasp, Southeastern Conference Player of the Week.
Harrellson earned such accolades largely on the basis of his 23-point, 14-rebound performance Friday in the Wildcats 78-63 victory at arch rival Louisville.
Harrellson carried that confidence into Monday night's 86-62 victory over the Penn Quakers at Rupp Arena, contributing 12 points, 11 rebounds, six blocked shots, two assists and just one turnover in 30 minutes.
Kentucky improved to 12-2 heading into its SEC opener Saturday at Georgia (4 p.m., SEC Network TV). Penn fell to 5-6.
"I was actually pretty shocked," Harrellson said when asked his reaction to being named the SEC's top player for this past week. "If you would have said something about Josh Harrellson being named SEC Player of the Week a year ago or two years ago, I probably would have laughed like you all just did.
"It's a new year and a new me," Harrellson added. "So, I guess anything is possible."
Unless you're, well, Louisville, you have to love Harrellson, don't you? He seems to be the same guy with his new-found celebrity as he was the past two years when he was largely a non-factor.
Some are suggesting that Harrellson's sudden effectiveness has something to do with practicing with ineligible freshman, Enes Kanter, every day. But Kentucky coach John Calipari said it has more to do with Harrellson's new-found work ethic.
Funny how that works when hard work meets results.
"What's helped him is he's changed habits," Calipari said of Harrellson after Monday's win over Penn. "He's conditioning for 40 minutes before practice. He goes out and does full-body conditioning. Goes in the locker room, lays around for about 15 minutes, tries to get his mind back, and then he goes out and practices for two hours.
"And that's changed him, nothing else,'' Calipari adds. "And he's building his own self-esteem because he's performing in games. You can do whatever you want in practice. You walk in that game and you can't demonstrate performance, you're not going to build self esteem and confidence. You've got to do it in the game, and he's performing in games right now."
Harrellson and the Wildcats took a good 10 minutes or so to 'perform' Monday night against Penn. All involved said the slow start - UK was down 32-21 early - had nothing to do with any post-Louisville hangover. That is, of course, ridiculous ... of course it did.
But the Wildcats woke up late in the first half, went on a big run to close the half with a 33-32 lead, and carried over the momentum into the second period.
Kentucky was never threatened after halftime. The Wildcats shot a breathtaking 81.8 percent over the final 20 minutes on 18 of 22. UK was 14 of 17 at the free throw line for the game and out-rebounded the Quakers, 37-17.
Freshman guard Brandon Knight was again brilliant, leading the Wildcats with 22 points. Knight added four assists, two rebounds, one steal and no turnovers in 33 minutes.
Freshman guard Doron Lamb had 16 points on 6 of 11 from the field. Junior guard Darius Miller was again good in spots, adding 11 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two blocked shots, two steals and three turnovers in 30 minutes.
Freshman forward Terrance Jones had 10 points and eight rebounds in a relatively ho-hum showing. Junior swing man DeAndre Liggins was again outstanding on defense with two steals, a blocked shot, and constant hustle. Liggins added seven points and two rebounds in 35 minutes.
But, again, the poster child for Kentucky was Harrellson. Let's put it this way: I think we can count on Knight and Liggins to play well most every night, and guys like Lamb, Jones and Miller to play well more often than not. But if Kentucky can continue to get consistent performance from Harrellson, the Wildcats should win the SEC and make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Harrellson said he was determined Monday to follow up Louisville with another good effort.
"I think this was a big step for me," Harrellson said. "People have been saying lately, 'How is he going to turn around after the Louisville game?' I'm just going to keep playing my game in the post. I won't be looking to shoot every ball. I'll keep taking them if I'm open. I want to keep finishing around the rim, and hopefully I can keep doing that so they'll keep passing me the ball."