Dec 8, 2012; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Ryan Harrow (12) dribbles the ball against the Portland Pilots in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Portland 74-46. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

UK Basketball: Getting Straight to the Point

Apr 2, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard Marquis Teague (25) cuts the net after defeating the Kansas Jayhawks 67-59 in the finals in the 2012 NCAA men

I wrote before the season that the biggest shoes to fill on the 2012-2013 edition of the UK Men’s Basketball team wouldn’t be the NBA’s first overall pick, Anthony Davis, or the second overall pick: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. In my opinion, the biggest hole to fill was that of Marquis Teague, himself a first round selection of the Chicago Bulls.  And why would I make such a claim when clearly Davis was the best player in college basketball last year?  Because head coach John Calipari’s teams are only as good as his point guards. And he’s had some really, really good point guards.

Derek Rose. Tyreke Evans. John Wall. Brandon Knight. And Teague.  All of them first round NBA draft picks (two overall #1 selections).  Calipari, like most coaches, puts a ton of pressure on his players to learn his dribble drive offense where decisions have to be made on the fly, depending on the reaction of the defense to the offensive player’s drive toward the basket. But when set plays need to be run, Cal has been fortunate enough to have some really great point guards to do it. And the success Cal has enjoyed at Memphis and now at Kentucky speaks for itself.  After a string of such great players, anyone might be intimidated to step into that role.  So I can understand why Ryan Harrow might have felt a little intimidated when the season began about being Cal’s next point guard. To paraphrase Spider-Man’s Unlce Ben: With becoming Cal’s point guard comes great responsibility.

Ryan Harrow is an above average collegiate point guard, but is he as fierce attacking the basket as Rose or Wall? Can he shoot as well as Evans or Knight? No, I don’t think he is. But what he can bring to the table is something that it took Teague until January to figure out: with good players around you, the best thing you can be is efficient.  During last season’s title run, the Cats didn’t become championship caliber and elite until Teague understood that he didn’t have to do it all. Sometimes, you have to let the big men finish at the basket and let the shooters knock down the outside jumpers.  So the key, as a Cal point guard, is learning to pick your spots to score and to pass and to always play solid defense.

Dec 1, 2012; Lexington , KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari talks with guard Ryan Harrow (12) during a time out against the Baylor Bears at Rupp Arena. Baylor defeated Kentucky 64-55. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

With Harrow missing some early games with an undisclosed illness and leaving Lexington to attend to a family matter, some of the more vocal folks in the Big Blue Nation openly wondered if the pressure had gotten to him. Was he leaving and, if we was, would he be able to provide this team with the point guard play that it desperately needed?  The early returns are showing that, yes, Harrow is very capable of leading this team on another deep tournament run. Sure, the opponents haven’t been stout, but when you watch the games, it’s clear that Ryan Harrow is “getting it.” Cal’s not yelling at him as much, the rest of the team appears to support him  and listen to him as becomes a more vocal floor leader.

More than any other current Wildcat, Ryan Harrow had the biggest shoes to fill and it looks like he’s now ready to lace ‘em up.

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