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Harrow thankful for support of teammates, coaches in making return

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Ryan Harrow returned to practice this week after missing time due to illness and spending Thanksgiving with his family while tending to an issue. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Ryan Harrow returned to practice this week after missing time due to illness and spending Thanksgiving with his family while tending to an issue. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Going weeks without practicing or playing a game, November was a trying month for Ryan Harrow.

Along the way, there was constant interest in his status on the part of fans and media, interest he couldn't help but be aware of as he missed time first due to illness, then to tend to an issue with his family. There were signs at his team's games, too many tweets to count - even though Harrow himself is no longer on Twitter - and a handful of personal encounters when he inevitably had to emerge from his room.

In the end, the only voices that really mattered - though he of course appreciated the support of the Big Blue Nation - were those of his teammates and coaches.

"They let me know that they wanted me to be back as soon as I could, but they understood what I was going through, being sick and having to handle my family thing," Harrow said. "I appreciated that and I keep telling them thank you."

For the first time since the day before UK's season opener, he was able to thank them in person at practice this weekend when he made his long-awaited return.

"It felt good," Harrow said. "All I could do was smile on Sunday when I was at practice."

His fellow Wildcats noticed.

"It was definitely a great practice with him back," Nerlens Noel said. "He couldn't stop smiling all day. I saw how much he enjoyed being back and it's just something that you've definitely got to feel good about, having him back with the team."

When UK (4-1) travels to Notre Dame (6-1) for its first true road game, Harrow will be with the team. Whether or not he sees the floor for the first time since starting and playing limited minutes against Maryland is another matter, though Harrow reports still being in shape despite the seven pounds he lost during his absence.

Coach Cal wouldn't rule out 7 p.m. ET Thursday against a big, veteran Notre Dame team that shoots well and figures to be playing in front of a raucous home crowd.

"We'll see," Calipari said. "I may throw him in that Notre Dame game just to see where he is. We're still learning. It's November. But we'll see."

The nice thing for the Cats is that they are long on options. Harrow entered the season as the heir apparent at point guard, but Archie Goodwin and Jarrod Polson combined to fill his void admirably over the last four games. Goodwin has been particularly impressive of late, averaging 25.0 points, 6.5 assists and 7.5 rebounds in a pair of wins last week over Morehead State and LIU-Brooklyn.

"He's our point guard," Calipari said. "He's earned the position and he's our point guard."

On its face, that may seem a suggestion that there is little room for Harrow to be much more than a backup. In reality, that's not what Calipari means at all.

"It doesn't mean he's our only point guard," Calipari said. "Now we have three point guards, which is even better really than having one point guard. And you can put two on the court at one time which is even better against zone, against pressing."

In fact, Calipari says that having two point guards a trait some of his best teams have had in common. In 2009-10, UK played the majority of its games with John Wall and Eric Bledsoe sharing the backcourt. The last two seasons, an argument can be made that Doron Lamb was a point guard playing alongside Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague. With Goodwin, Polson and a healthy Harrow, Calipari might be able to play multiple point guards together again.

How exactly that works is far from set in stone. Just like the team as a whole, the point guard position is a work in progress that has at times looked good and at times not. But the idea isn't to look good in November, it's to look great when March rolls around.

"This is about, when it's all said and done, were we the best version of what we could be as a team?" Calipari said. "Were individual players the best version of themselves? And were we having more fun than any team in the country? Now the answer to all those is no, no and no. We need that to be yes, yes and yes and then that's the team that keeps marching, doesn't want the season to end."

In all likelihood, the best version of this Kentucky team a few months in the future is one that features Harrow prominently. When he begins to play a role, however, remains to be seen. The good thing for Harrow is that he has more experience sitting on the bench and supporting his team than he cares to remember after redshirting last season.

"I've been doing well in the two practices that we've had since I've been back and if Coach feels like he needs to play me then he'll play me and I'll be ready," Harrow said. "I don't know when that's going to happen. All I know is I'll be on the side cheerleading like I was last year but dressed up and ready to go if need be."

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