Kentucky basketball faces ludicrously high expectations in 2013-14, and not just because the Wildcats are ranked No. 1 in both preseason polls. The top eight players on John Calipari’s roster—six McDonald’s All-American freshmen and two sophomores—are all auditioning for NBA draft position, and the returnees also want to prove that last year’s 12-loss debacle was a fluke.
No other player in that exalted octet, however, will be under quite as much pressure as Andrew Harrison. The 6’6” freshman takes over the point guard duties in Lexington with a national title bid riding on his shoulders—in more ways than one.
In the first place, the biggest cause of Kentucky’s fall from the rankings a year ago was poor point guard play. Harrison is a vastly more talented player than either Ryan Harrow or Julius Mays, but he still has to prove that he can outperform them when the Wildcats need him most.
After all, neither of the team’s two returning starters—Willie Cauley-Stein or Alex Poythress—has shown much ability to create offense for himself. If Kentucky is going to avoid the half-court stagnation that plagued it last season, it will be largely Harrison’s doing.
By the same token, if the offense sputters, Harrison will get the lion’s share of the blame.
However, even if Kentucky is scoring points in bunches, the freshman floor leader will still face an enormous challenge. Along with Calipari, Harrison bears the crucial responsibility of keeping UK’s annual chemistry experiment from blowing up in everyone’s faces.
Since Coach Cal arrived in Lexington, he’s done a near-miraculous job of convincing high school superstars to suppress their egos and put the team first. But every year (and every crop of McDonald’s All-Americans) brings a new mix of personalities and a new version of that task.
Which freshman will make the most important contribution to Kentucky's shot at a national title?
This season, Kentucky has six freshmen who could legitimately have expected to start for any team in college hoops. Calipari has to manage their playing time, but Harrison has the equally vital job of distributing the offensive touches among all those stars.
If any player feels like he’s not getting the shots he deserves, Harrison will be the one who has to adjust. Moreover, it’s Harrison who will need to keep that kind of problem from arising in the first place.
If the freshman can keep everyone happy and effective (while playing well himself), Kentucky should win a national title. If the ‘Cats fall short, he’ll be the first one whose leadership skills are called into question.
But hey, no pressure.