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Harrow grows up in asking for, succeeding in starting role

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Ryan Harrow had 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in his return to the starting lineup on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Ryan Harrow had 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in his return to the starting lineup on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
After the worst loss of the John Calipari era at Kentucky on Saturday against Tennessee, the Wildcats spent a lot of time talking.

They had team meetings. They had individual meetings with Coach Cal. They even had a players-only meeting. Out of that meeting came a mandate for point guard Ryan Harrow.

"The players had our own meeting and they just was telling me they needed me to be out there to make plays," Harrow said.

Harrow was coming off - like many of his teammates - a performance he'd rather forget. His scoreless performance at Tennessee was preceded by another zero the scoring column against Florida. The Harrow who had bounced back from an early-season absence to become one of UK's more consistent performances had been replaced by a player whom Calipari wasn't even comfortable with starting in Knoxville, Tenn.

But on Tuesday, Harrow decided he wasn't going to accept that. For the good of his team, he made up his mind to tell Coach Cal he wanted to return to the starting lineup.

"I just felt like I needed to go to Coach Cal and tell him I was going to do whatever he needed me to do just so I could be out there to play," Harrow said.

Talking about approaching Calipari and actually approaching Calipari are two different things though. As Harrow made the short walk to the coaches' offices at the Joe Craft Center, his sweat glands told him so.

"I called my mom right before and told her I was nervous," Harrow said. "My hands were sweating. When people were trying to give me high-fives, I had to wipe my pants first and give them high-fives."

But his mind was made up and Harrow went through with it. Once he started talking, it got a lot easier.

"When I got in there, we were able to talk and he listened to what I had to say and then he had the answers for me already," Harrow said.

The answer was yes.

"Any time guys come at me with stuff like that, it's easy for me because it takes it off my plate; now it's on their plate." Calipari said. "You want to start, okay, great, here you go."

It wasn't quite that simple though. In granting Harrow's request to start, Calipari made sure to tell Harrow it was down to him follow through.

"I said, 'Okay, you've got a responsibility though if you're going to start,' " Calipari said.

On Wednesday, Harrow held up his end of the bargain. He scored 12 points in a 74-70 win for UK (18-8, 9-4 Southeastern Conference), 10 of which came in the first half. He made 6-of-9 field-goal attempts and grabbed a season-high-tying five rebounds against Vanderbilt (10-15, 4-9 SEC). He committed zero turnovers against four assists in piloting a UK offense that shot 29 of 56 (51.8 percent) from the field.

"I thought he was terrific today," Calipari said.

The reason he was so much better boils down to aggressiveness. Calipari needs his point guard to set the tone with an attacking mentality. Without that, the offense looks how it did in last week's two road losses.

"He told me he needed me to take shots, 'cause when I'm aggressive everybody else is aggressive and the flow of the game is better," Harrow said.

That assertiveness extends beyond driving and shooting. Learning to speak up for himself both on and off the court has been a process for the self-professed squeaky-voiced Harrow, but he said "he grew up a little bit" by asking for a starting spot. His teammates agree.

"That was a big step for Ryan," said Willie Cauley-Stein, who scored a career-high 20 points and came up with a pair of clutch blocks in the final 34 seconds to preserve the victory. "We need him to be more vocal like that, get it within himself and express how he feels to coach. It's all about growing up and starting to be a man like that."

Ironically, the topic that dominated postgame talk centered on a game that doesn't exactly scream "grown up."

Immediately after UK's pregame walkthrough on Tuesday night, players and coaches split into separate teams for a round of gym-class favorite dodgeball. Though the Cats must play like men, they have to do it while maintaining a sense of fun and the torn ACL that Nerlens Noel suffered last week sapped any such good spirits. Coach Cal and his staff had to do something to rectify that.

"We just were talking, and what can we do?" Calipari said. "We've got to lighten this mood up. These guys are with the weight of the world on their shoulders, let's do something."

The latest in a series on nontraditional coaching ploys Calipari has tried this season worked wonders.

"When he came out with dodgeball, everybody was like, 'Oh! This is kind of like childhood here. We're playing dodgeball again,' " Cauley-Stein said. "It was just real fun."

Riding Cauley-Stein and Jon Hood - who both have "an absolute cannon" according to Calipari - the players won. There will be a rematch before Saturday's Missouri game in a sport Coach Cal believes will allow the coaches to reverse Tuesday's outcome.

"We're going to play wiffle ball Friday," Calipari said. "I promise they will lose Friday."

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