January 6, 2011
Kentucky's Josh Harrellson: Re-Animated Big Man
Similarly, goes the unlikely tale of Josh Harrellson.
While Harrellson wasn't "dead," he was left for dead, or more eloquently stated; persona non grata, by many Kentucky basketball fans when discussing the possibility of life without (Enes) Kanter. The conversations around the Bluegrass among Big Blue backers, when discussing the season's prospects without Kanter manning the middle, went something like this, "Well, (John) Calipari will have to push the ball, gang rebound, and play Terrence Jones down low, rather than let him roam the perimeter (where he likes to play). Without Kanter in the middle, life will be tough, but they should still win 24, 25 games. Shouldn't they?"
And then came the infamous Harrellson tweet. Unhappy with a lack of praise from Calipari after a 26 rebound performance in the Blue/White game in late October, Harrellson tweeted, "Just amazing to me I can't get a 'good job' or 'way to go,'" from Calipari.
The response from Cal was swift and without mercy -- Cal banned Harrellson from tweeting, and ordered 6:00 am workouts for the "loose-lipped" big man. Harrellson, instead of moping and complaining (and even transferring or quitting; something he said crossed his mind), opted to re-dedicate himself to basketball. He took Cal's punishment, and made himself better because of it.
" ... he's changed habits. He's conditioning 40 minutes before practice. He goes out and does full-body conditioning. Goes in the locker room, lays around for about 15 minutes, tries to get his mind back, and then he goes out and practices for two hours. And, that's what's changed him, nothing else. His habits have changed and he's building his own self-esteem because he's performing in games. You can do whatever you want in practice, you walk in that game and you can't demonstrate performance, you're not going to build self-esteem and confidence."
The transformation from slow-footed, unreliable, inconstistent big man, to rebounding, shot blocking, double-digit scoring machine, has been stark and unrelenting -- Through the first five games of the year, Harrellson made 9-16 shots (56.3%), averaged 3.8 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game (3.6 offensive), and 1.4 blocks, in an average of 23.6 minutes of play.
Harrellson's rank among the big men in the SEC is eye-popping, especially considering where it is he came from -- No. 1 in overall rebounding with 9.3 per game; No. 1 in offensive rebounding with 3.8 per game; No. 3 in defensive rebounding, grabbing 5.5 per game; and No. 2 in field goal percentage at 65.0%.
The newly minted SEC Player of the Week has transformed not only himself, but more importantly, the Kanter-less 'Cats from a top 20-type of team, into a team balanced enough to contend for that which all UK fans, coaches, and players pine for: A fourteenth Final Four.
And all because of a little more effort, a little more dedication, a little more confidence, and a much more svelte body.
Not only has Harrellson altered the future expectations of his team, but he has also given himself the opportunity to play basketball after he leaves Kentucky. A laughable thought prior to Harrellson's changing of habits.