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Harrellson makes case for more playing time with performance in China

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MBSK 09_10 UK_Hartford Web 78.jpgJosh Harrellson has been in and out of the Kentucky basketball lineup more often than bellbottom jeans have resurfaced.

Upon his arrival in 2008 as a junior-college transfer, Harrellson was expected to contribute as a key reserve and did so in Billy Gillispie's final season. As a junior last year, he was pushed out of the primary rotation and relegated to the bench in favor of highly touted freshmen.

Then, when those same freshmen bolted for the NBA this season after a magical one-year run, Harrellson was thought to be one of the only sure things to shore up a barren frontline. And now UK head coach John Calipari has hauled in yet another spectacular recruiting class, nabbing big men Enes Kanter ( No. 3 overall recruit), Terrence Jones ( No. 13 recruit) and former Florida forward Eloy Vargas.

Has Harrellson consequently been pushed back out of the rotation?

"(John Calipari) could start five freshmen, one sophomore, three juniors and a senior - he could start anybody," Harrellson said. "Whoever earns the right to start is going to start. He's a fair coach. If you earn the right to start, he'll start you. He's not going to start anybody that doesn't deserve to start."

With that mentality in mind, Harrellson and teammate Jon Hood traveled with Sports Reach to China in May for a 17-day trip to play basketball. As a part of the Christian outreach program, one of the main goals was to travel across the country to gain a new cultural appreciation for China and its people.

But make no mistake about it, the trip was also to hone their basketball skills.

During the China voyage, Harrellson and Hood, along with a handful of other collegiate players that included Louisville's Peyton Siva and Tennessee's Skylar McBee, played nine games against local clubs, which included the Bayi Basketball Club, traditionally one of the top teams in China, and a Russian all-star team.

The Sports Reach team posted a 6-3 record thanks in large part to Harrellson's play. Exhibiting perhaps the best basketball of his career, Harrellson averaged a team-high 13.1 points and 9.2 rebounds for the American-based team. The senior-to-be shot 58.7 percent (54-of-92) from the floor against some of China's best players.

"It boosted my confidence," Harrellson said. "I've been playing against Daniel (Orton), Pat(rick) (Patterson) and DeMarcus (Cousins) all year long, so I just tried to carry that over there. I think it will boost my confidence for next season."

It would be a common misconception to assume that Harrellson was going against much smaller, less-skilled players in a still developing basketball country. Not so, said Sports Reach director Robby Speer and Harrellson.

What some of the players lacked in athleticism they made up for in size. Speer called some of the opposing players "giants," and Harrellson said the average height of some of the teams was 6-foot-8. The 6-9 Harrellson played - and produced - against players 7-foot or taller and even scored 11 points against a 7-4 Russian.

"Really all I did was rebound," Harrellson said. "Just offensive rebound, just put it back in. If that's all I need to do here (to play) then I'll be happy just doing that.

Regardless of the opposing competition, UK teammate Hood, who averaged 5.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists despite poor shooting performances, saw a more polished Harrellson in China.

"I wouldn't say it was confidence," Hood said. "I've seen Josh play in practice and he played well in practice last year, but like everyone said, it's behind a bunch of studs that are all going to the NBA. Josh is a great player and he showed it over in China."

The success overseas - in sometimes adverse conditions with the foreign food, mobs of fans, lack of sleep, travel and different facilities - has helped reestablish a belief in Harrellson that he can in fact contribute to next year's team as he enters his final season at Kentucky.

"It really reassures me to know that I can produce and I am a good player," Harrellson said. "That's why I'm here. Just going over there and playing against those experienced guys. Playing behind DeMarcus and them, I was fine with that. We won 35 games. That's a great season. But going over there and playing against those guys and then coming back here knowing I actually have a chance to play, I'm just going to keep pushing myself as hard as I can."

Whether it will be enough to crack what should be another talented rotation remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that, with a steady summer so far, Harrellson has at least earned himself the chance to throw his name back in the mix.

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