On Thursday, June 25, the National Basketball Association held its annual draft at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The University of Kentucky Wildcats tied the programs own record with six players selected overall and four drafted in the coveted lottery section of the draft. Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Andrew Harrison and Dakari Johnson all heard their name called on Thursday night. The lone Wildcat that left Lexington with eligibility left that didn’t hear his name? Aaron Harrison.
Aaron Harrison, along with his twin brother Andrew, arrived on campus in the fall of 2013 with huge expectations. This was the class (along with Julius Randle, James Young, Marcus Lee and Dakari Johnson) that was going to make the Big Blue Nation forget the disastrous 2013 team that lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris. This was the class that was talked about making a run at 40-0. This was the class that was going to return the Cats to the top of college basketball. As they say, games aren’t paid on paper and things don’t always go as planned.
The 2013-14 Cats struggled through most of the season. The team wasn’t as bad as the previous year, but weren’t nearly the world beaters that their high school rankings led the BBN to believe that they would be. The focus for most of the fan base’s angst was the play and on the court demeanor of both Harrisons, but Aaron was the focus. As freshmen often do, his play was uneven. Aaron made mistakes. He missed shots and took shots that he probably shouldn’t have taken. To make matters worse, his even keel, never demonstrative on-the-court demeanor was interpreted that he didn’t care and was only waiting to bolt Lexington for the NBA as soon as the season ended.
A funny thing happened as the 8th seeded Wildcats started the tournament. After a first round victory over Kansas State, the Wildcats caught fire and defeated Wichita State, intrastate rival Louisville and Michigan on the way to making the Final Four. And once in the Final Four, the Wildcats defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in the national semifinal. Ultimately, the Cats fell in the championship game to the UCONN Huskies, but the run they went on was one for the ages and no one had a bigger part in that turnaround than Aaron Harrison.
Against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin, Aaron Harrison hit last moment three pointers that secured victory for Kentucky. He hit a go-ahead three pointer against Louisville that helped the Wildcats erase a horrid 21-3 start to dethrone the defending champs. And against Big 10 power Michigan and Wisconsin, he hit shots that, when reviewed, came with a degree of difficulty that still, over a year later, seems impossible. Once is lucky, but three times? Aaron Harrison defined clutch.
When the Harrison twins decided to return to school for their senior year, everyone knew the team would be special. Not wanting to raise expectations like with the 2013-14 team, most folks took a wait and see attitude for 2015. Head Coach John Calipari had amassed so much talent that he decided to go with a platoon system to make sure all his talented players had the opportunity to shine. At first, many, especially outside of the Big Blue Nation were skeptical. But once the wins started piling up, it was hard to deny this team was special.
Everyone of the players sacrificed a lot to play for this team. Everyone of them handled the difficult spotlight of playing for Kentucky tremendously well. And Aaron Harrison, a player that had dealt with the good and bad of the Big Blue Nation finally had a chance to smile as the Wildcats headed to the 2015 Final Four with a 38-0 record. Ultimately, the Cats fell short of their ninth national title and historic 40-0 record. And as has become routine, the team broke up and everyone went his separate way.
Aaron Harrison has signed on to play with the Charlotte Hornets summer league team, which is still a viable option to make it to the NBA. There are a lot of players with his size and skill set trying to make it to and stay in the league. Harrison has long odds to make his dream come true. I believe he can and I believe he will. I believe that Harrison is clutch. Not only has he taken and made big time shots, he’s been the type of player you want on your team. I think he can work his way onto a NBA roster and become a great rotation guy.
He was forgotten about at the draft, but ultimately, he won’t be forgotten once he gets his chance. He’s Aaron Harrison, UK’s Mr. Clutch