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Oh Jorts, oh my! Harrellson does it again

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Josh_web.jpgNEWARK, N.J. -- The absence of Enes Kanter was supposed to be the downfall of the Kentucky men's basketball team this season.

It turns out it may be the inspiration of UK's second consecutive run to the Elite Eight and the seeds of turning a young man's mediocre college basketball career into the stuff of Kentucky lore.

Surely, you know the whole story by now. Senior forward Josh Harrellson enters the year as a seldom-used afterthought. Kanter is ruled ineligible by the NCAA and all hopes of a Final Four run appear dashed. Harrellson's importance suddenly grows with Kanter's ineligibility, but the chances of him actually playing and cushioning the blow of Kanter are slim to none, especially after Harrellson tweets some not-so-flattering comments about his head coach.

At that point, John Calipari thinks about suspending Harrellson, but decides to keep him on the team and force him through a hellacious pre-practice conditioning program. The additional running, extra lifting and further guidance not only strengthen Harrellson's conditioning, they transform his game, his attitude and his outlook.

Fast forward to Friday night's 62-60 upset of No. 1 seed Ohio State. Harrellson is no longer just a Cinderella story. He is legitimately playing as if he's one of the best big men in the country.

Harrellson went toe-to-toe with the national Freshman of the Year and arguably the best big man in the country, Jared Sullinger, and won the battle. With yet another Herculean effort, Harrellson helped advance Kentucky to its second straight Elite Eight.

"I have been guarding the best guys in the country for the last two years with DeMarcus (Cousins), Daniel (Orton), Pat (Patterson), and this year guarding Enes," Harrellson said. "It gives me an edge guarding Jared Sullinger, one of the best in the nation. Going against Enes, it gives me more confidence coming into this game."

For as much as the Kanter situation called for Harrellson to step up and for all the hours Kanter has helped Harrellson with his game, Harrellson somehow conjured up one of the most drastic transformations and improvements the college game has ever seen because of his own hard work.

"If you asked me at the beginning of the year (if I thought he'd be a factor like this), I would say no," Calipari said. "But you know what? I have done this a  long time (and) I'm not sure if I have ever been this proud of a young man who, you know, he's going to do what he wants to do now. He changed. He did it himself. It's not what I did. We put him on stage, but they have to perform."

And oh my, did "Jorts" perform Friday.

Under the microscope of the nation, Harrellson scored 17 points (7-of-9 shooting) and grabbed 10 rebounds. Sure, Sullinger scored 21 points and 16 rebounds, but Harrellson blocked three shots and frustrated the Ohio State center from ever getting into a rhythm.

"Everybody's talking about how (Harrellson on Sullinger) is such a mismatch, but I'm telling you, Josh really works hard for those rebounds and he can score, too," freshman forward Terrence Jones said. "Josh was thinking about this game all last night and he really went out and played as hard as he could."

Harrellson set the tone early with a smothering two-hand block on Sullinger in the opening minutes. With the game on the line and UK hanging to a one-point lead with just over a minute remaining, he came up with the stop of the game by forcing Sullinger into an awkward turnaround that hit the side of the backboard.

The willingness and the fortitude to take on Sullinger one-on-one allowed the rest of Kentucky's defense to focus on the perimeter shooting of Ohio State. With Harrellson able to hold his own on the low block, Kentucky was able to employ a similar strategy to the one that worked so well in the win over Vanderbilt.

Kentucky got into the shooters of the best 3-point shooting team in the country and limited the Buckeyes to 6 of 16 from behind the arc. 

"Coach believed in that in the game plan," Jones said. "Coach believed in (Harrellson). Everybody knew that we would have to guard the shooters and he would have to defend (Sullinger)."

Said Ohio State head coach Thad Matta: "I think Harrellson is probably the most underrated player in college basketball."

In the hours leading up to the game at UK's shoot-around, Calipari and some of the players reportedly started calling Harrellson "Enes" to motivate him for the big matchup.

"I think it worked," Harrellson said. "I came out and played like Enes would play."

He's become every bit as valuable as the Turkish big man that was expected to lead Kentucky to this point.

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1 Comment

i have been watching ky.basketball for over 30years. josh is a insperation and deserves any awards he gets "wildcat of the year"no matter what happens a true wildcat dont stop keeps playing josh good game,good season and be proud to be a wildcat because ur congrates on your sucess now kick the ****out of the tarehills and take it to the final four big guy....."go cats"!

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  • carl meadows: i have been watching ky.basketball for over 30years. josh is a insperation and deserves any awards he gets "wildcat of read more