LEXINGTON (AP) — Ryan Harrow is learning what it takes to play point guard at Kentucky.
The sophomore transfer is being asked to lead — which means being more vocal and more aggressive.
Harrow started the season opener against Maryland before missing four games due to an illness and because of a family matter. He lost weight during the absences and feel out of the Wildcats’ rotation.
Now things have started coming together for the 6-foot-2 Harrow.
His playing time has steadily increased and in his second start last Saturday against Lipscomb he had a season-high 12 points, two assists and no turnovers.
John Calipari said Harrow still has work to do, but the guard is just glad to be back on the coach’s radar and is determined to be the floor leader Kentucky needs.
“I already knew what coach Cal expected of me,” said Harrow, who transferred from North Carolina State. “It’s just something I had to keep playing into. Being vocal is something you have to do or coach Cal is going to take you out of the game. I want to be the one out there playing as much as I can, so I’ll just do whatever he tells me to do.”
Communication hasn’t come easy for Kentucky (7-3), which faces Marshall on Saturday in its final tuneup before traveling to face rival Louisville on Dec. 29. What got lost in the hoopla over the arrival of another highly regarded freshmen class that includes Archie Goodwin, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, was the Wildcats’ roster featured no returning starters.
Harrow, who watched from the sidelines last season as he sat out per NCAA rules, said that’s what separates this team from last year’s championship squad. Despite the standout freshmen seasons of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Wooden Award winner Anthony Davis, Kentucky had veterans such as Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and Terrence Jones to make them comfortable in the system and get them trust each other.
Kentucky has yet to develop that chemistry and it has shown in losses to Duke, Notre Dame and Baylor. Even after lopsided wins, Calipari has lamented that his players don’t talk to each other enough on the floor.
Harrow said he is and new teammates are working to change that.
“All of us are still learning and blending in,” Harrow said. “If we just keep getting better and better as time goes along, we’ll be that team that everybody is looking for by the time for the NCAA tournament.”
Harrow’s recent focus has been getting into shape during “Camp Cal,” the boot camp-style conditioning program Calipari began after noticing his team’s struggle to play complete games. Harrow has embraced the daily routine of 7 a.m. workouts and afternoon practices, and he certainly hasn’t argued about a diet that allows him to eat whatever he wants in an effort to bulk up his slight frame.
The regimen has helped Harrow regain about six of the 10 pounds he lost from the undisclosed illness. His strength and stamina have improved as well, as he played a season-high 31 minutes last weekend.
Harrow looks more confident on the court, making strong cuts to the basket and taking care of the basketball. Calipari believes there’s still a lot of room for growth with Harrow, saying after the Lipscomb game that his guard “did okay.”
Wildcats players saw Harrow’s flow developing before that game.
Goodwin, who handled point guard duties during Harrow’s absence, said “he’s been knocking down a lot more shots lately and getting back into the groove of things.”
Harrow seems to have a grasp of his responsibility in a Kentucky program that faces a lot of attention and constant scrutiny. He has tried to tune out any distractions.
“There’s nothing like Kentucky and the spotlight we’re in,” Harrow said, “but I’ve always been somebody that people have watched and either spoken highly of or criticized a lot. I’m kind of used to it by now. You can’t really focus on that. All I’ve got to be worried about is the guys that I’m playing with and coach Cal.”
Boston Celtics guard and former Wildcat Rajon Rondo has provided Harrow an example to follow. Harrow eventually hopes to develop the passing skills and passion that has made Rondo one of the premier point guards in the NBA.
Like Rondo does with the Celtics, Harrow wants to able to put his Wildcats teammates in position to make shots. Harrow said that is what being a point guard is about, especially at Kentucky.
“Lipscomb was a big game for me, but there are places I can improve,” he said. “I just like when I find the open man and they’re able to make the play or knock down the shot,” he said. “Knowing that I made that right decision to give the person the ball at that particular time and them being able to score gives me satisfaction.”