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August 6, 2014

Harrison twins improve bodies, body language

He needed to sleep more. He needed to eat better.

Aaron Harrison came to Kentucky as one of the most highly sought-after shooting guards in high school basketball, but it didn't take long to learn that he'd entered a different world.

"You have to change your life, the way you live," said Harrison, who returned for a sophomore season at UK after considering the NBA and now is preparing for a six-game trip to the Bahamas with his teammates. "Coming here, it's so serious. Playing basketball here is so serious. It's life or death here, so you have to change to survive."

It's no surprise that his identical twin, Andrew Harrison, needed an identical lesson.

The Harrison twins were praised as saviors of a Kentucky program that lost in the first round of the NIT two years ago, heralded as harbingers of a return to form for the Wildcats under John Calipari.

When they failed to set the college basketball world on fire, they drew the ire of critics -- some of them Kentucky fans -- and their head coach, who harped on everything, but nothing more than their bad body language.

The twins had identical shoulder slumps. They hung their heads and complained to referees and pouted their way through a season that was productive on the whole -- the twins combined as freshmen to average 24.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game -- but largely disappointing until the postseason.

"I think it was just us realizing how much work it actually takes to be great," Andrew Harrison said. "Just getting that confidence back you had in high school, feeling like you're the best player."

Those old high school Harrison twins turned up for the NCAA Tournament, Andrew guiding the Kentucky offense and Aaron hitting now-legendary late-game three-pointers against Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin, leading the Wildcats to the NCAA title game.

They settled for second place, but wanted a second season.

In part, both Harrisons hoped for another chance at a championship. And in part, they had something to prove to the NBA.

They had questions to answer, Calipari said, and that's part of this season's mission.

"You're not coming back here just because it's the easiest thing," Calipari said he told the twins. "It may be the hardest thing for you to do."

One of those questions, both Harrisons concede, was about their athleticism. Closely related were the NBA's concerns about their defense.

"The NBA is point-guard dominated, and it's whether or not you can guard that person," Andrew said.

To address both the athleticism issues and the defense -- a significant struggle for both twins last season -- the Harrisons committed to losing weight. Andrew "focused on eating a lot of green stuff" and Aaron cut out late-night fast-food trips.

Aaron Harrison is listed at 212 pounds this summer, six pounds lighter than a year ago. Andrew, listed at 210 now, was 215 on last season's roster but says he got as high as 222 as a freshman.

And then there's the matter of the body language.

Calipari harped on it for most of last season, and it became the most common criticism of the Harrisons.

"It's just the up-and-downs of the game," Aaron Harrison said. "Coming out of high school, not being used to failing as much. It's tough to get used to failing and take failing in strides."

Andrew Harrison admits he and his brother had a lot to learn.

Calipari concedes it took him time to learn what to teach.

"I just think that they needed me to give them better direction," Calipari said. "They needed me to basically better define their roles."

But because he had a brand-new roster, Calipari said, it took time for him to know what those roles were. Over the course of the season, the roles became clearer. And that helped the Harrisons hit their stride.

They returned to Kentucky not as freshmen finding their feet but sophomores set to surge.

"They're comfortable out on the court where last year they were trying to figure themselves out, and that's why you had that body language stuff," Calipari said. "You don't see any of that this year, and the only time they do anything like that is toward each other, like, where they're saying something to each other."

In fact, in practices this week the twins have been noticeably more vocal. Andrew Harrison said he's enjoyed having freshmen teammates ask him questions, and he's tried to take on a more active leadership role.

The result of all this changes -- of bodies and body language -- has led to another significant switch.

The dynamic between the twins and Calipari, too, differs dramatically from a year ago.

"I feel like he trusts me a lot more, and I trust him," Andrew Harrison said. "So it should be a good year. I'm looking forward to it."


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