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With Harrow on right track, Coach Cal looks to Poythress

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UK returns to Rupp Arena for its final nonconference game vs. Eastern Michigan on Wednesday at 6 p.m. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) UK returns to Rupp Arena for its final nonconference game vs. Eastern Michigan on Wednesday at 6 p.m. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Ryan Harrow had just returned from a nearly three-week absence when John Calipari summoned him for an individual meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was simple: Coach Cal wanted to make sure Harrow knew what his teammates needed from. Given his penchant to using the Socratic method, Calipari began the talk by asking Harrow's opinion.

Harrow, having spent his entire basketball career as a point guard, thought he had the answer.

"Being a leader," Harrow said.

"That's not what it is," Calipari said.

With all the time Harrow had spent away, leadership wasn't going to be in the cards. Calipari told him he had neither the credibility nor the rapport with his fellow Wildcats to pull it off, at least not immediately.

That wasn't necessarily easy for Harrow to hear at first, but the hard truth eventually sunk in. Having accepted that, he turned his attention to what Coach Cal told him his team did need.

"It's just me going out there and playing hard and doing what I need to do to help the team," Harrow said. "That's my way of leading is just going out there and playing hard and doing everything that the team needs me to do."

On its face, that may seem a simple task, but anyone who knows much about playing point guard for Coach Cal knows "doing your job" is tough enough on its own. So Harrow took every measure in his power to improve.

With the semester break from academics, he began working out as many as four times a day separate from organized practices. He called on friends from school and even one from Atlanta - who travels to Lexington twice a week - to help him in the gym.

Even his coach volunteered as a workout partner.

Taking individual time with both Harrow and Archie Goodwin, Calipari wanted to help the two players on whom the success of his backcourt hinges improve.

"We were just working on coming off the pick-and-roll or turning the pick-and-roll and taking the shot," Harrow said. "Even if we miss the shot, if I miss my floater, it's still a good shot because the big man would be able to tip it in or get the rebound and put it back up."

The results of all that work are plain to see.

In a span of a few weeks, Harrow has gone from having no role to having an uncertain one to being one of Kentucky's steadiest players. His remarkable turnaround culminated in a 17-point, five-rebound, three-assist performance in UK's 80-77 loss at Louisville. Most amazingly, he committed nary a turnover against a Cardinal team that's the best in the nation at forcing opponent miscues.

"For me to not have any turnovers, it was just me playing a smart game and doing all the things we worked on in practice," Harrow said.

It's quite clear that Harrow has taken his coach's message about doing his job to heart, but he also realizes he has a lot of work ahead. Calipari plans to continue working with Harrow individually, but Coach Cal has added another pupil.

In that loss to U of L, Alex Poythress played just 15 minutes. With uneven efforts and occasional foul trouble to blame, the freshman forward has seen his role shrink of late. Early in the season, he had four straight 20-point performances. Now, he has failed to score in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time in his college career.

On Sunday and Monday, Poythress worked on "things that are pertinent to how he plays" with Coach Cal. Included among those are transition, where he catches the ball on offense and running the floor. For breaks, he shoots five free throws. If he misses more than one, he runs. The Sunday session lasted 38 minutes, Monday just 27.

"He was way better today than he was yesterday," Calipari said on Monday. "It wasn't close. Now, was he all the way there? No."

According to Harrow, practice and individual workouts are a tale of two Caliparis. While Coach Cal often needs to play bad cop to make sure practices are intense, the good cop comes out when it's just he and one or two players.

"He's telling how good you're doing and if you make a mistake he'll try to correct it for you," Harrow said. "But he's telling you how good it looks when you do it and how it's going to work in the game and things like that."

A little positive reinforcement could go a long way for Poythress.

Following a 20-point, eight-rebound performance against now-top-ranked Duke, the Clarksville, Tenn., native gained some buzz as a potential top overall NBA Draft pick, though Calipari still made sure to point out that was far from a complete effort. Since then, he has hardly resembled the player his coach and teammates often refer to by a certain feral nickname.

"I definitely know what he can do because he's just a beast," Harrow said. "He has all the talent to be one of the best players in the country. It's just a mental thing with him. He has to believe it. We can't believe it for him."

Everyone involved is hoping the individual workouts will lead to a renaissance of self-assurance for Poythress, but Coach Cal is not overlooking the fact that belief a two-way street.

"You help build their confidence, because now you're working directly with them, but you also build your confidence in them," Calipari said.

Coach Cal isn't convinced results will show themselves when the Cats next take the floor vs. Eastern Michigan in their final non-conference game on Wednesday at 6 p.m. He's willing to be patient though.

"He's just gotta change his habits just like Ryan had to," Calipari said. "The minute he changes his habits, the minute he changes his mentality of how he wants to play and how he needs to play, he'll be fine. When you see him in two weeks you'll say slowly you've seen the change."

When it happens, look out.

"Once all of us are playing to our potential, you'll be able to tell that we could be one of the best teams in the nation," Harrow said. "We went toe to toe with (fourth-ranked) team in the nation and all of us didn't even play that well. Once all of us are doing everything that we're supposed to do, we'll be where everybody thinks we should be."

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