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December 8, 2012Ryan Harrow can't escape the voice. The Kentucky point guard hears it in practice. He hears it in games.
He hears it even when he's away from basketball. Even when he's sleeping.
It's his coach's voice, John Calipari's voice.
And it's with Harrow day and night.
"He's in my dreams all the time," Harrow said Saturday after Kentucky's 74-46 win against Portland. "And now, the Italian accent - whenever I watch a movie and there's an Italian accent, I'm like 'Oh, Coach Cal. That's Coach Cal all the way.' I'm like, 'Dang, this is Coach Cal in the movie right here.' I can't even think about the movie anymore."
It turns out that for Harrow, being hounded by his coach's voice is better than not hearing it at all.
The 6-foot-2 point guard went a while without that sound ringing in his ears. He missed four games and almost two weeks of practice - first with an undetermined illness, then to attend to what he called a family issue - and there was relative silence.
He came back to the sound of Calipari's voice. It urged him and corrected him. It got louder the more mistakes Harrow made.
It's starting to sound better to Harrow now. And the sophomore point guard is starting to look better, starting to show flashes of his old self. He showed plenty of them on Saturday, playing his best game of the season as the Wildcats (6-3) routed the Pilots (3-6).
Harrow had season highs in points (eight), assists (six) and minutes played (25), coming off the bench to help spark a Kentucky rout.
There were lapses, Calipari said afterward, stretches where Harrow reverted to some bad habits, like letting up on defense or jogging up the court with the ball. But those were rare.
"The other parts of the game I thought he did fine," Calipari said. "Got to run the team a little bit better, like yelling out what we're doing. But he was good. It was great to see. I'm happy for him."
Harrow seems happy too.
He looked pleased when his jump shot dropped - he made a pair of baseline floaters and the first three-pointer of his season - and when he dished to teammate Archie Goodwin for a thunderous dunk.
And he seemed more relaxed, both on the court in the second half and in meeting with reporters afterward. After a long absence and the accompanying rust, Harrow looks to be finding his way.
"Every game he's getting better and better, just getting more adept at the playing style and how coach wants him to play," teammate Nerlens Noel. "You can see it in his game, it's really coming together. He's really getting used to everything."
And that could be critical as Kentucky's season progresses.
With Harrow at point guard, Goodwin - whose 15 points matched Alex Poythress for the team lead Saturday - is free to get out ahead of the pack in transition. The Cats "don't get any easy baskets," Calipari said, when that's not happening.
Goodwin had two spectacular dunks in the closing minutes against Portland, and though the came in garbage time, it's a sign of what an energized, engaged Harrow could help bring to Kentucky.
"(Goodwin is) unstoppable on the fast break, definitely," Harrow said. "And I'll find him. I'll find anybody, really, whenever they're open. So as long as I've got the ball and I'm getting it to them, they're going to do what they do best."
And that's an element the Kentucky offense lacks with Harrow on the bench or playing in the sort of funk that's plagued him since his return.
"He's a playmaker," guard Julius Mays said. "He's out there to make plays, and I can just spot up and he can make plays for me. It's a lot easier when he's on the court, because he's a natural point guard."
Clearly, Calipari hasn't given up on Harrow turning into the point guard his team needs. Though he had lapses, he often was just what Kentucky needed on both ends of the floor.
"He pushed the ball ahead, flew it up the court, stayed in a stance, bothered the ball," Calipari said. "When the ball drove, he went level with the ball."
The trick now is to sustain that sort of play, to prevent those lapses that necessitate Harrow coming off the court. Until that happens, Harrow is likely to continue hearing Calipari's voice.
And that's fine with Harrow, who at his family's urging sent Calipari a text message this week to thank him for the tough love, and to tell him to continue challenging Harrow.
"I took those two weeks off, and he could have put me to the sideline and been like, 'We're just going to worry about these other guys,'" Harrow said. "But I'm back at it, I'm actually playing and he hasn't let up on me. And that's just because he knows that I could get to (be) that point guard that he wants me to be."