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Aaron Harrison thrives in return to natural position

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Aaron Harrison had 10 points, seven assists, six rebounds and no turnovers in UK's 95-72 win over Montevallo on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Aaron Harrison had 10 points, seven assists, six rebounds and no turnovers in UK's 95-72 win over Montevallo on Monday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
There's never been any question about the importance of the point guard in John Calipari's system, but Aaron Harrison has been getting a crash course in what playing the position is all about over the last week.

With his brother Andrew recovering from a bone bruise in his knee, duties at the point fell primarily to the elder of the two twins in practice and Kentucky's first exhibition. Through that process, Aaron Harrison has gained a newfound appreciation for his brother's role.

"Playing the point guard, (Calipari) definitely says something to the point guard every play," Harrison said. "He tells you to attack and you have to get every other player involved, so it's really difficult when you're not used to it."

That magnitude of that adjustment was on display against Transylvania, as Harrison managed just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting to go with his two assists. Sensing Harrison's unease at the unfamiliar position, Coach Cal inserted Jarrod Polson into the starting lineup, shifting Harrison back to two-guard.

Harrison flourished in his return to shooting guard.

"It was really relaxing," Harrison said. "I got to run the floor a lot more. I'm not worried about getting the ball up the court, but playing point guard is a learning experience. I just feel more comfortable running the wing right now."

Harrison scored just 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting in UK's 95-72 win over Montevallo in Rupp Arena in its final exhibition, but added seven assists and six rebounds against zero turnovers. He made cameo appearances at the one -- much like he will once his brother returns -- but spent the majority of his time off the ball.

Ironically, moving back to the wing brought the point guard out of the 6-foot-6 freshman, both on the floor and in his postgame comments.

"I mean, the guys finished the balls that I threw to them," Harrison said. "They weren't really tough passes. They were probably tougher shots to make than passes, but I guess they made me look good in the stat sheet."

Even so, UK's offense ran far from seamlessly without its full-time floor general. The Wildcats committed 16 turnovers and had just 14 total assists, though they shot 36 of 62 (58.1 percent) from the field.

"It's like, OK, we're playing without our quarterback," Calipari said. "Now, the good news is his backup looks just like him. But he's not him."

Calipari's words underscore the fact that, regardless of Andrew Harrison's health, Aaron Harrison will be called on to spell his brother. For that reason, having to step up in the short term will likely benefit both Harrison and the Cats down the road.

"I'm starting to get the feel of getting the other players involved and making sure I'm still attacking but getting other players involved," Harrison said. "And that's the biggest deal for me: balancing those two out."

With a more effective Harrison, UK turned in a markedly better performance than in its first exhibition after an exhausting two-day "break" between games.

"We beat them up pretty good this weekend," Calipari said. "They had a lot of practice this weekend, and so I got to their legs a little bit. But that's fine. I thought we played better than we did last game, and that's all I'm asking."

The Cats will ultimately be measured by how they play in March and April, not November, but the games start counting on Friday when UK takes on UNC Asheville. That injects a bit of urgency into UK's development.

"The biggest thing I can tell you is we've got a long way to go, but we've made strides," Calipari said. "We're not a good team right now. We've got a nice collection of guys, but we're not a good team."

Calipari didn't say it, but it's difficult for that collection of talent to mesh without that player who will ultimately lead it. The hope is that Andrew Harrison will return to practice on Wednesday following an off day and be on the floor for the season opener.

"Andrew knows what to do and we all know Andrew knows what to do," Aaron Harrison said. "He's a great player. Just like I said before, I have much more respect for what he does on the court playing point guard and we're all excited to have him back really."

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