Who’s going to stop the Wildcats?

With Harrisons coming back to UK, talk is all about Final Four

By Brian Rickerd Published:

LEXINGTON — Several years ago, when the Chicago Bears acquired quarterback Jay Cutler, a national sports reporter went to Chicago to do a story on Cutler, and the reporter took time out to do a phone interview with ESPN from his hotel.

This was before Cutler had even played a single down for the Bears.

A minute or two into the interview, you could hear a lot of noise in the background, and the reporter on site apologized and told the ESPN guys: “I’m sorry, but that’s the Super Bowl parade passing by my hotel.”

That was the feeling Friday when news came across in the early afternoon that Aaron and Andrew Harrison would return to play basketball as sophomores for the Kentucky Wildcats.

As an aside, isn’t it ironic how quickly Andrew and Aaron went from Mr. Pouty face and the guy who couldn’t shoot straight in February, to some kind of UK basketball Mt. Rushmore in little more than four weeks.

The Harrison twins, to their considerable credit, didn’t listen to the noise and showed so much growth and character in sparking the Wildcats to the NCAA championship game.

That says a lot about the character of those two guys, and the power of the human spirit.

Few of us can even imagine what it’s like to walk in the shoes of youngsters who land on the pedestal of UK basketball and function in that fishbowl.

Though we can try.

I remember a moment during the NCAA Tournament — I’m sorry but I don’t remember the game — but it was in the final minute or so of one of those nail-biter games, and Julius Randle went to the free throw line.

A reporter sitting next to me noted the tension of the moment and said: “I wouldn’t even be able to lift my hands above my waistline to throw the ball at the basket, let alone make it.”

Randle, of course, made the free throws.

And the Harrisons, of course, played stellar basketball throughout the postseason, coming up one win shy of what could have been the most gloriously bizarre season in UK basketball history.

Andrew and Aaron’s decision to return to UK, based largely on the uncertain projections about their landing spot in the June 26 NBA Draft, made Lexington a Mardi Gras north this weekend.

People are giddy, leading me to believe that if you happen to NOT be a Kentucky basketball fan — hard as that is to fathom — this might be a good year to take that around-the-world cruise you’ve dreamed about.

The NCAA might as well hand the Wildcats the national championship trophy now ... that’s the feel you get, even from people I know who are normally much too grounded to say something like that.

A reporter friend of mine told me Saturday that he’s going to make a reservation this week at the Holiday Inn Express, across the street from Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, for the 2015 Final Four. This week is the earliest you can make such a reservation this far out.

“Do you think I should check in on Thursday or Friday?” he asked me.

This prompted my wife, Little Bear, to ask me: “Should you get a room, too?”

I agree that coach John Calipari appears to have all the bases covered for his 2014-15 team.
Prior to the Harrison’s decision to return, there were concerns about shooting from the perimeter, particularly from the wing. But not anymore.

You can have Aaron out there off the elbow, or incoming freshman two guard Devon Booker, or Derek Willis.

Many are projecting Alex Poythress as the small forward, moving away from the power forward spot he’s largely played the past two years. But I don’t buy that unless the 6-foot-8 Poythress drastically improves his jump shot.

I’m sure that, deep down, Andrew and Aaron are disappointed not to be going to the NBA this year. But I don’t expect either to come back complacent, because Booker, incoming point guard Tyler Ulis, and returning guard Dominique Hawkins are all good enough to help the Harrisons brush off sophomore blues.

All Andrew and Aaron lack is superior quickness. Ulis and Hawkins can provide that.

Last, let me offer a couple cautionary notes:

First, this team had better find leadership it has lacked for two years. And that will probably have to come from Andrew and Aaron, because I don’t see “veterans” like Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, or anybody else, filling a leadership void.

Two, the NCAA Tournament is such a crapshoot. I would suggest that not only does the best team usually not win the national title, but it’s actually rare when it happens.

This most recent tournament is a prime example. Eventual champ UConn was down to St. Joseph’s by seven points with three minutes left in a first-round tournament game.

And if you remove your blue colored glasses for just a second, it’s not hard to see a dozen situations that would have made Kentucky a loser before the title tilt.

So, go ahead, make your reservations for the Final Four in Indianapolis.

But, check the cancellation policy.

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  • You Kay was like the award winning series Breaking Bad's Walter White in the NCAA tourney run...they kept getting out of impossibly difficult situations with sheer genius.

  • "As an aside, isn’t it ironic how quickly Andrew and Aaron went from Mr. Pouty face and the guy who couldn’t shoot straight in February, to some kind of UK basketball Mt. Rushmore in little more than four weeks."

    The viagra that I sent them sure helped...