Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Rick Barnes Sees Dramatic Improvement in Kentucky’s Harrison Twins
Just two years ago, Texas coach Rick Barnes was on the hot seat because of the team’s struggles, which included a 16-18 record in 2012-13 and a first-round loss in the CBI.
Barnes also took heat for failing to land the state’s best prospects.
In the Class of 2012, Texas missed out on in-state stars Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke), Isaiah Austin (Baylor) and Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State).
A year later, Texas stars Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle all committed to Kentucky, Matt Jones picked Duke and Keith Frazier chose SMU.
“Well, I’ll say this, I think you’re always on the hot seat,” Barnes said this week in advance of Friday’s showdown between No. 6 Texas and No. Kentucky at Rupp Arena. “I’ve said this before: If I were on the hot seat here, nobody that turns the heat up here ever told me that. I think people can start something, and it can take off, but to be honest with you, I didn’t ever talk to anybody about that, because I’ve worked for one of the greatest ADs in the country in DeLoss Dodds and he never told me that.”
Texas recruited the Harrison twins early on, before they ultimately narrowed their list to Kentucky, Maryland and SMU.
Now Barnes and the Longhorns will face the Richmond, Texas natives, and they will do so without injured point guard Isaiah Taylor.
From where he sits, Barnes sees tremendous improvement in the Harrison since their time at Travis High School in Texas.
“John [Calipari] has really taught them winning,” Barnes said this week on a conference call. “They can still use their talent and be really team players. It can be built around you, yet sometimes we have to play this way or that way. I think he’s really taught them how to see the game.”
Barnes added: “When you come out of high school as heralded as they were, when you’re told over and over you’re a can’t-miss this, a can’t-miss that, and for the first time, you have a coach who is relentless. He’s not going to give in to it. He’s going to coach you. He’s going to tell you the truth. He probably talked to [them] in a way in terms of telling you the truth, maybe like you never heard, and I see that. Where I see them grow and truly understand the team game.”
The Harrisons considered jumping to the NBA along with Randle and James Young last season, but opted to stay on campus after it became clear they were perceived as borderline first-round picks.
Not much has changed in that regard despite the Harrisons’ improvement. DraftExpress.com has Andrew Harrison projected as the No. 26 pick and Aaron at No. 31.
Calipari told reporters this week he’d like to see Andrew become more of a strategic scorer.
“Andrew could get 20 [points] a game: scoring, shooting, free throws, layups,” Calipari said. “But if he’s our leading scorer, we’re not winning. But there are games he must be our leading scorer. He has to feel it. It can’t be me telling him.”
NBA scouts also question the twins’ ability to defend at the next level, but Andrew says he’s improving.
“I feel I’m a little better,” he said. “I’m a whole lot better.”
Aaron Harrison developed a huge reputation last year for hitting game-winning shots in the NCAA Tournament, but is shooting just 36.6 percent from deep this year.
“They’ll fall,” Aaron said. “I think they feel pretty good. A lot of them are going in and out, so they’ll start falling.”
Meantime, Barnes and Texas have turned things around on the recruiting trail by landing 6-11 freshman Myles Turner, who is averaging 12.1 points and 7.1 rebounds after a slow start.
“I just think he’s one of those guys that, as time goes on, as he continues to learn what we’re trying to get done, he’s gonna get more and more relaxed and more comfortable,” Barnes said. “He’s a guy that, he listens extremely well, and he really wants to be coached. He’s just been a terrific teammate with these guys here.”
DraftExpress currently has Turner as the projected No. 14 pick.
“He’s a good player,” Calipari said of Turner. “Long, skilled, good around the basket, good open shooter, make free throws, and can really pass. He’s a good player – a really good player.”
And with the addition of Turner and Texas’ unbeaten start, nobody’s saying Rick Barnes is on the hot seat anymore.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.