ARLINGTON, Texas — Whether they’re setting up game-winning shots or hitting them, Andrew and Aaron Harrison have become the maestros orchestrating Kentucky’s unexpected run to the Final Four.
Andrew is the point guard who runs the show. He’s dished out 21 assists in four NCAA tournament games, including six in a win over Michigan that sent the Wildcats to Dallas.
Aaron is the shooting guard with the hot outside stroke. He had 12 points against the Wolverines, including the deciding 3-pointer with four seconds left in a 75-72 victory.
Naturally, his twin brother made the pass.
Now, the Harrison boys will try to guide Kentucky past Wisconsin in the national semifinals on Saturday night, and move one step close to winning the Wildcats’ ninth national title.
“It’s a great feeling. Not too many people get to reach the Final Four,” said Aaron, older than his brother by a minute, “so now that we’re here, we’re just trying to stay focused.”
Good luck with that.
Everyone wants a piece of the Harrisons, who grew up near Houston and are Texan through-and-through — even if they made the cardinal sin of choosing the round ball over the pigskin.
They have gleaming smiles that flash pearly white teeth, making them the darlings of the TV folks. Their effervescent personalities charm writers, if you can coax them out of that shell that they sometimes erect. And they have a biting sense of humor that borders on crude, according to teammates who’ve been reduced to tears by a well-timed joke in the locker room.
“The Harrisons, good family, mom and dad raised them and did right,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They were coached, they are skilled. They just had to be challenged in a lot of different ways that they had never been challenged.”
They were taught the game by their father, Aaron Sr., who runs a successful car dealership and was an accomplished player in his own right. He would drag them to the YMCA or the rec center, putting them in games against boys a year or two older than them, and then almost callously tell them to work harder and get better when they couldn’t get on the court.
It was that upbringing that fueled a competitive streak in the Harrisons. Skinned knees. Bloody noses. They were the price of success, starting in youth basketball and all through high school.
Of course, growing up in Texas, there was always the allure of football. Aaron was a quarterback and Andrew a running back, and both of them had talent.
“In Texas, if you play football, that’s pretty much the only thing you do,” Aaron said. “And you have to take it really serious. If you don’t take it serious, you won’t get a lot out of it.”
Still, the Harrisons were willing to give it a shot, only for Andrew to be told in high school that he was too tall to play running back. He quit. His brother followed him out the door.
It was just as well. They were already exploding on the AAU scene, attracting plenty attention from college coaches across the country. Their future clearly lay in basketball, where they’d honed their considerable skills under the watchful eye of former NBA coach John Lucas.
When they committed to Calipari as a package deal, it set Big Blue Nation into a tizzy.
“Football’s really important in Texas. Coming here, everyone is like I am,” Aaron said of Kentucky. “Everyone loves basketball and basketball is the most popular thing. I tell my friends a lot about how crazy everyone is about basketball here.”
Many of those friends will be inside AT&T Stadium on Saturday night.
The twins figure they received about 50 requests for tickets in the first couple of days after beating Michigan. They stopped counting after that.
“You’re family,” Andrew said. “It’s hard to say no to your family.”
Calipari beams when the topic of the twins is brought up.
He explains that there were two things that they needed to address once they arrive at Kentucky. One was body language, which sometimes became lax. Once that improved, Calipari said, “they became different players.” The other was defining their roles, and Calipari admits “I did a poor job of that until late in the year.”
Now, it’s evident that Andrew is the distributor who can shoot, and Aaron is the shooter who can distribute, and both of them are now playing much more freely.
“My job is to help define their roles, to bring them together, to get them to understand,” Calipari said. “I’m happy it was done. I just wish I had done it earlier.”
Then again, maybe it was done just in time.