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Cal and "Coaching 'Em Up": Lessons from Ryan Harrow

I’m not one of these fans who think coaches are above criticism once they’ve had a good year or two. So long as they’re taking money, they need to be earning it. John Calipari is the highest paid employee of the Commonwealth of Kentucky; it is never unfair to ask whether the man is earning the more than four million dollars of public funds he is paid every year.

The year he rode six current NBA players to a national championship, Cal repeatedly boasted, "We don’t just roll the ball out on the floor and let ‘em play: we coach ‘em up."

That boast was conspicuously absent last year, when UK (playing five All Americans and six future pros) had a season worse than the one Billy Gillispie got fired for, as Kentucky rolled up a near-record 12 losses, including a humiliating first round defeat in the NIT to something called Robert Morris University (with no All Americans and no future pros on its roster).

Ken Pomeroy’s computer ranked Billy Gillispie’s 2009 squad the 56th best in the country that year. Cal’s 2013 squad? 67th. At least BCG managed to reach the third round of the NIT.

Did Cal earn his millions last year? Is he earning them this year?

Oh, Cal made excuses. There were always excuses, and none of them was, "Maybe I’m not as good at coaching up these one-and-dones as I thought." In fact, most of what we heard was this: "I gotta get better players. Gotta have a longer bench. Having the best recruiting class in the country is not enough. When I get better players – more All Americans, more pros -- I can bench these bums I have, and we can win."

Coach Cal directed much of that innuendo at one Ryan Harrow, the transfer point guard whom Cal lured away from NC State, then repeatedly impugned in the media as "uncoachable."

Well, Cal got his wish. He flushed Ryan from the program and brought in the Number 1 ranked point guard in the country in the person of Andrew Harrison, who thrilled the Big Blue Nation with public statements of how much he planned on enjoying "my one year in college at UK."

A dozen games into the 2013-14 season, how is that trade-up working for us? The comparison is way beyond interesting.

Ryan Harrow now plays for Georgia State, where in his last two games he scored a combined 43 points, had 17 assists against a single turnover, 7 rebounds, and 5 steals. He committed only 2 fouls, and converted 12 of his 13 foul shots. Not bad for an uncoachable bum with a girly voice who refuses to communicate.

What about the guy Calipari traded him in for? Over his last two games Andrew had only 2 assists against 5 turnovers, missed 7 foul shots, and committed 7 fouls on his way to getting a single steal. He attempted 18 field goals and 16 free throws, and managed to score only 25 points out of all that. Cal’s assessment after these last two games? "He’s getting better; he’ll be fine."

Hmmm.

Looking at the yearly averages proves that the last two games are actually pretty good indicators of how each boy’s season has gone so far. On the year, Andrew averages 11.2 points per game to Ryan’s 20.2. Ryan also averages more rebounds, more assists, and fewer turnovers, and nearly five times as many steals while simultaneously committing barely one-third as many fouls (nor does he sulk and scowl when he gets caught fouling). Ryan shoots 47% to Andrew’s 39% from the field, and 82% to Andrew’s 71% from the free throw line.

Before you say Harrow couldn’t do that against SEC level competition, be aware that against Vanderbilt this very season Ryan scored 27 points, and had 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and only one turnover.

Meanwhile against non-SEC level competition like Eastern Michigan and Belmont (neither team ranked in the Pomeroy Top 100), Andrew had a TOTAL of 15 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists, against 7 turnovers, and no steals, while committing 8 fouls (and whining about every one of them).

One of the weakest components of our offense this year at UK is that we are prone to turning the ball over. Statistically, our worst offender in this category is – wait for it – yes, Andrew Harrison. Meanwhile, guess which team is ranked best in the country at protecting the ball? That’s right: the Georgia State Panthers turn the ball over the fewest times per possession of any team in the country – and their point guard is one Ryan Harrow.

It’s hard to find any category where we have benefitted by trading Ryan for Andrew. And now that Calipari is no longer Ryan’s coach, it’s equally hard to find those glaring, uncoachable shortcomings Ryan Harrow had that supposedly cost us our season last year.

In fact, if you look at Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings for offensive efficiency for individual players you will find UK’s best player to be Julius Randle, ranked at number 23 nationally, just below Russ Smith, Louisville’s highest ranked player, who sits at 22.

Both, however, are ranked below Georgia State’s girly voiced and uncoachable Parade All American Ryan Harrow, who is ranked 19th in the country – just behind a guy named Jabari Parker, of Duke, who sits at 18th.

As for Andrew Harrison, it’s not clear where he is ranked, because Pomeroy’s computer ranks only the Top 500, and he’s not in that pool.

Here’s what one pro scout told Zagsblog after the most recent UK game about Andrew and twin brother Aaron: "They both struggle to guard perimeter quickness. They both are not consistent shot-makers. Andrew’s just OK. He’s never going to be able to break any NBA point guard down, and at 6-5 you’re not going to be able to post him. There’s nothing that either one of them brings that makes you say, ‘Wow, this guy is my point guard or my two guard of the future’."

An objective observer might argue that what is really happening is that Cal and his staff are indeed just rolling the ball out there -- and it ain’t working. Meanwhile, it is other coaches who are taking All Americans (including our scapegoat cast offs) and truly coaching ‘em up.

For those die-hards (God bless you) who are still whistling through the graveyard, for all the bluster about 40-0, this year’s team is only one game ahead of where last year’s team was at this point in the season.

In all seriousness, anybody else wonder whether we are getting our money’s worth out of Cal?





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