Meet the Wildcats: Tough twins push each other to perfection

A new season brings new players and new stories to tell. Throughout the summer, will be profiling Kentucky’s newcomers in its annual and exclusive “Meet the Wildcats” series. Each story will be accompanied with video. Today you get a double dose of introductions: Andrew and Aaron Harrison.

Amid the red sea where blue usually reigns supreme, a Kentucky fan unfurled a sign over the upper deck in Rupp Arena to calm the panic in Big Blue Nation. While Louisville fans celebrated in Kentucky’s house during the beginning of their national title run – the Wildcats did the same thing in U of L’s arena the year before – six words, painted in blue, reminded UK fans that everything would return to normal in due time.

“Keep calm,” the sign read, “the twins are coming.”

More than five months since that sign hung, the worry is over. After a summer full of questions – there were message board rumors as to whether the Harrisons would be eligible since they weren’t on campus yet – Andrew and Aaron Harrison arrived last week to calm those fears and signal the start of a potentially promising 2013-14 season.

The twins – eligible and eager to begin their UK careers – are here.

Andrew Harrison

Position: Point guard
Date of birth: Oct. 28, 1994
Parents: Aaron Sr. and Marian Harrison
Hometown: Richmond, Texas
High school:  Fort Bend Travis High School
Nickname: N/A
Twitter: @DrewRoc5
Favorite TV show: Martin
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite superhero: Spider-Man
Favorite player: Michael Jordan and Derrick Rose
Favorite hobby outside of basketball: Watching movies
Favorite movie: He Got Game, Broken City, Step Brothers
Favorite artist: Meek Mill, Jay-Z

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Andrew said last week, just a few days after he arrived on campus for the 2013-14 fall semester. “I’m just excited to get on the court with everybody. I can’t wait.”

The feeling is mutual for Big Blue fans.

For all the problems the 2012-13 Wildcats had, whether it was lack of depth, lack of collective talent, a championship hangover or just bad breaks (see Nerlens Noel), there never seemed to be enough team-wide toughness to overcome the obstacles.

John Calipari tried anything and everything to change the course of his team’s season, but without a collective resolve, there wasn’t a solution to the unsolvable. Many of the problems that plagued Kentucky a year ago should be fixed this year from a sheer numbers and talent standpoint, but one thing that almost certainly won’t be a problem again is toughness.

Julius Randle is what Coach Cal describes as an “alpha male,” a killer who can take the game over and a leader who will drag his teammates, but Calipari may have struck gold this year with a couple of others. They just happen to be cut from the same cloth.

Known throughout basketball circles as two of the most competitive players to step on the court – talk with them a couple of minutes and it becomes clear how much they loathe losing – the Harrison twins are expected to add key ingredients that last year’s team lacked, particularly in the backcourt.

Andrew Harrison became the point guard of the twins sort of by chance. His father had him bring the ball up the court in elementary school, and he’s been doing it ever since.

“I think our biggest trait is our mental strength and our toughness, physically and mentally,” Andrew said in an exclusive interview with “A lot of people have talent, but what sets the great players apart is the toughness and their willingness to work hard and do whatever it takes to win.”

The twins grew up with a mental tenacity, in part, because they had no choice. Their father, Aaron Harrison Sr., instilled a sense of pride and ferocity in them early on. He knew at their early age that his boys had a gift that could take them places, but he also knew trouble surrounded them at every corner.

Rather than try to shield them from the potential potholes and traps, Aaron Harrison Sr. taught his sons how to ride through them and how to pick themselves up when they tripped over one.

“We grew up in a suburb town, and every time we would go into the city, people would try to take advantage of us,” Andrew said. “My dad always taught me to stand up for myself. No matter who it is, you’ve got to go at it as hard as you can, so I feel like you just have to be fearless on the court and win at all costs.”

(That win-at-all costs mentality grew to be a part of the Harrisons’ reputation, and spilled over to gossip that Randle didn’t want to play with them. As everyone would later find out, the rumors proved to be just that as Randle signed on to play at Kentucky. All parties say they’ve always been friends and are looking forward to playing with each other. “I think just our competitiveness on the court (started that),” Andrew said. “We’re pretty good friends. I can’t wait to play with him.”)

“Andrew comes in ready to play physically at the point-guard position. He’s a driver, slasher and playmaker with great size. He and his brother Aaron have the ability to be great on-ball defenders.” — Coach Cal
Growing up in a coddled generation, the Harrisons were chiseled to withstand the type of hard work and criticism that a road through UK and to the pros will ask of them.

“Anything we did when we were younger, my dad never let us quit,” Aaron said. “He always said, no matter what you do, even if you’re a garbage man, you have to be the best garbage man in the world.”

What their father established in them, they hammered into each other. Rather than using all of their competitiveness on their opponents, the two used it against each other to make each other better. In backyard games, they never let up on one another.

“We played until we couldn’t see anymore and my mom had to tell us to come inside,” Andrew said. “There were definitely some battles and some scraped knees.”

In high school and AAU, they fueled each other to push just a little bit more. When the other one had the hot hand, the other twin kept feeding him. When things weren’t going so well, the other one was stepping up, playing harder and letting the opponent know he had another Harrison to deal with.

“We both expect perfection out of each other,” Andrew said. “We definitely push each other to be the best.”

Aaron Harrison

Position: Shooting guard
Date of birth: Oct. 28, 1994
Parents: Aaron Sr. and Marian Harrison
Hometown: Richmond, Texas
High school:  Fort Bend Travis High School
Nickname: Ice
Twitter: @AaronICE2
Favorite TV show: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Favorite food: Seafood
Favorite superhero: Batman
Favorite player: Michael Jordan
Favorite hobby outside of basketball: Watching movies
Favorite movie: Law Abiding Citizen
Favorite artist: Jay-Z

Where some twins tend to grow tired of being paired together all the time, the Harrisons embrace their partnership. Both players are talented in their own right – they are each ranked No. 1 at their respective positions, point guard (Andrew) and shooting guard (Aaron) – but they realize they’ve become better players because they’ve been able to motivate each other along the way.

“Every day of my life I’ve been with him and vice versa,” Andrew said. “I’m so used to being called a twin that I’m not bothered by it.”

Said Aaron: “Even though we were in a six-bedroom house, we still slept in the same room. … We just do everything together basically.”

Including recruiting. When it came time to go through all the phone calls, visits and decisions, the stress was lightened by the fact that they had each other to lean on, in addition to their parents.

“Sometimes one twin is better than the other, but in our case, it’s really not like that,” Andrew said. “I think that made it easier on the coaches because … we both wanted to go to the same place. We never were looking at different places or anything like that. Some people say it’s a packaged deal or whatever, but we just looked at is as going to school together. We didn’t think of anything else other than that.”

Kansas, SMU, Baylor and Maryland were all in the running for the Harrisons, but Andrew and Aaron said they had an idea early on where they wanted to go after taking all of their official and unofficial visits.

“We never had any doubt about what school we were going to,” Aaron said. “One of us never had a doubt. We were altogether on the decision.”

The twins will have the opportunity to grow their separate identities at Kentucky, and in some cases, they will be forced to go their own way. They haven’t talked about it yet – they say they are only focused on their time at UK and competing for a national championship – but there will come a time when the twins have to separate themselves if everything goes according to plan and they make it to the NBA.

Both twins agree, Aaron Harrison is the better shooter of the two.

“I think if we were seen more as individuals we would be known as better players than what we are (right now),” Aaron said. “People just say the Harrison twins. One minute people say Andrew is better and the next minute they say I’m better. They don’t even know which one is which. It really doesn’t bother us, but I feel like it would be more helpful to us if people knew us apart.”

On the floor, their games certainly have their similarities and differences. Both are strong, ultra-competitive guards who like to get to the rack, but some facets of their game flourish more than others.

Andrew’s the point guard; Aaron’s the shooting guard. Andrew’s the distributor; Aaron’s the scorer. Andrew’s got the better handles; Aaron’s got the better long-range shot.

Both can alternate positions when need be, but Andrew became the point guard in elementary school when his dad had him bring the ball up the court.

“Aaron is more of a scoring guard who can make shots and make plays at the rim. He can also play some point in a pinch. Like his brother, Andrew, he has the ability to physically dominate the opponent.” — Coach Cal
“We were both wings at first, or twos and threes, but we had a little point guard on our team that kept getting trapped with the ball and couldn’t see over the top,” Andrew said. “One day my dad, in like fifth grade, let me bring it up and I was able to throw it over the top. It just stuck like that.”

With roles defined, Andrew focused more on his ball handling and passing while Aaron honed his shooting and mid-range game.

Andrew said John Wall was his favorite Coach Cal point guard to watch, but he was impressed by Calipari’s ability to coach and improve all different types of point guards.

“They all have talent, but (Calipari) just knows how to cater to their game,” Andrew said. “All of those point guards aren’t the same, so he knows how to play with them and each one’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Aaron averaged more points in their senior seasons at Fort Bend Travis High School with 23.1 points per game. He will be counted on to provide the Cats perimeter shooting after UK lost 85.9 percent of its 3-point production from last year.

“My strengths are definitely scoring, getting to the basket off the dribble, shooting and creating for other people, and playing on-ball defense,” Aaron said. “I need to work on my consistency. My jump shot has to get more consistent. And the off-the-ball defense, I need to work on that, staying focused on my man.”

However they are defined this year, whether it’s as individuals or twins, both stressed this year is about doing what’s best for the team, not necessarily for their twin brother.

“When (Aaron’s) having a good game, I just try to give him the ball and get out of the way sometimes, but it’s not like that a lot though,” Andrew said. “We just try to play together with the whole team, not just us two.”

And while it’s still to be determined what everyone’s role on the team will be this year, chances are the Harrisons will be doing a lot of the leading.

“I definitely think me and Andrew are going to be vocal leaders on the team and push everybody and just lead by example,” Aaron said.

The twins are indeed here and order seems to be restored, but they said the only thing they can promise with their arrival is that they will work diligently to add a toughness that last year’s team seemed to lack.

“People expect us to come here and be great players and have high expectations, so we’ve got to come in here and work hard and fulfill expectations,” Andrew said. “If we win the national championship, we’ve succeeded, but working hard is all we can promise people.”