Ryan Harrow’s fresh start gives him a shot at redemption

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Seven times in the past six seasons, John Calipari has recruited and coached a point guard that played for him for one year, either at Memphis or Kentucky, before moving on.

That group includes six first round picks, some of whom are among the NBA’s most talented ballhandlers: Derrick Rose. Tyreke Evans. John Wall. Eric Bledsoe. Brandon Knight. Marquis Teague.

And then there’s Ryan Harrow.

Unlike his one-and-done predecessors, Harrow’s tenure under Coach Cal didn’t end up with a guaranteed contract and NBA millions. It ended back in his hometown of Atlanta, as the former top 40 recruit transferred to Georgia State back in March after one ignominious season in Lexington.

Instead of playing in the SEC for a team expecting to compete for a national title, Harrow will be helping the Panthers navigate the jump from the CAA to the Sun Belt Conference this year.

Instead of starting at the most important position in Coach Cal’s dribble-drive motion offense for what is arguably the nation’s premier program, Harrow, who has now parted ways with two top 25 programs, finds himself trying to learn a third system in four years; trying to mesh with and lead a talented team built largely on fellow high-major cast-offs.

This wasn’t the path Harrow saw himself headed down.

Three summers ago, when he packed his things and moved to Raleigh, Harrow never pictured himself returning home to play for the second best college team in a city located in the heart of football country.

But that’s not where his story has to end.

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Last season was a nightmare for Kentucky, with yet another top recruiting class yielding nothing but a first round NIT loss to Robert Morris. If that wasn’t bad enough, in-state rival Louisville went on to win a national title. As bad as things got for Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Nerlens Noel, who missed the final third of the season after tearing his ACL, it was Harrow that became the whipping boy, the kid that was forced to shoulder much of the blame for Kentucky’s struggles.

It started on the season’s opening night.

Harrow managed to play all of ten minutes in front of a packed house and a national television audience as the Wildcats beat Maryland in the inaugural college basketball game at the Barclays Center. His backup, former walk-on Jarrod Polson, was the star. The official party line was that Harrow was sick, that he had the flu, but when he missed the next four games, including Kentucky’s trip to Atlanta for the Champions Classic, it was clear there was more going on.

Kentucky referred to it as a personal issue throughout the year, but wouldn’t get into specifics. Harrow’s father suffered a stroke prior to the start of the season, and that played a role in his decision to leave the team for a week last November. During phone interviews with NBCSports.com last week, neither Harrow nor new head coach Ron Hunter would discuss what, exactly, caused Harrow to miss time last season.

“There’s a lot of things that aren’t reported involved in his personal life, things that most 30 or 40 year old men couldn’t handle,” Hunter said. “I don’t know if any kid in the country could have gone through those things.”

What was affecting Harrow off-the-court is unclear.

What was clear, however, was that Kentucky needed Harrow on the court. They needed him to be a commanding presence at the point, a coach on the floor that could get all of that inexperienced talent organized and into an offense without turning the ball over. Kentucky needed strength. They needed toughness, both physical and mental. They needed a vocal, commanding leader. The fans knew it. The media harped on that point, especially when Noel went down with a torn ACL.

And Harrow couldn’t provide that on a consistent basis.

source: Getty Images“I had a long stretch where I was doing really well,” Harrow told NBCSports.com, “and then towards the end of the season, it was just hit or miss with me. If I just played like myself and did well, we usually will always come out on top.”

Ability wasn’t the issue. Harrow had 16 points, eight boards and six assists in an overtime win against Missouri and 13 points in a come-from-behind win over Florida in the final regular season game, stats made all the more impressive by the fact that both games were the most important to date for last year’s Wildcats. Those were two bright spots in a season that ended in utter disappointment, however.

Rock bottom came during the postseason. Harrow collapsed. After going 2-15 in in a 16 point loss to lowly Vanderbilt in the first round of the SEC tournament, Harrow was in tears, trying to hide his face from the cameras during his postgame media session as he blamed himself for the loss.

“It just all came out right there. I’m not even a big believer in crying. I really don’t like that [everyone saw me],” he said. “But that was real. What happened to me, […] that was everything that was inside of me that came out.”

Harrow followed that game up by getting benched after playing just nine minutes as Kentucky got dropped by Robert Morris in the NIT’s opening round.

Less than two weeks later, Harrow announced that he would be transferring.

“I really tried not to think about it until the season was all the way over,” Harrow said. “It was a hard decision because I knew how good Kentucky was going to be this season.”

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When Harrow announced his decision to transfer out of Kentucky, the assumption was that he was either forced out by Coach Cal or that he headed for the hills when he saw the Harrison twins coming for his minutes. It was an easy connection to make for the armchair college basketball cynic. Coach Cal has run players off before, when he first arrived at Kentucky*. It’s a practice that is quite common at that level of the sport. And no one wants to spend a season buried on the bench after getting accustomed to starting.

(*According to a UK spokesperson, “All returning scholarship players from the 2008-09 Kentucky team had an option to return under coach Calipari.”)

But Harrow bristles at the notion that he left Lexington for any reason other than being closer to his father.

“We got a saying in my family, ‘Family First’,” Harrow said. “We’ve all got that tattooed on us. My dad is the only one in Atlanta, and with the struggles that he’s going through, I just thought that it would be best for me to come back and help him with whatever he needed.”

According to Harrow, when he made the decision to go to N.C. State, his family moved out of Atlanta to North Carolina to be closer to him. Everyone except his father, that is, which created a problem when pops suffered his stroke. There was no one there to help him. “They thought that his left side would be a little bit more back to normal than it is,” Harrow said, “but it’s not progressing like they thought.”

So Harrow headed home.

“He’s always really happy when I’m around,” he said. “And I get to see him a lot more now that I’m only ten minutes away.”

“I just think that he’s finally settled in his life, he’s back settled with his family and people that care about him,” Hunter added.

Whether Harrow left Kentucky because he saw the writing on the wall or because he wanted to be closer to his dad is largely irrelevant at this point. The NCAA believed his story, which means that Harrow will be eligible this season to run the point for a talented Georgia State.

The Panthers return their top three scorers from last season, including 6-foot-5 shooting guard R.J. Hunter, the head coach’s son that averaged more than 17 points as a freshman. Throw in seniors Devonta White and Manny Adkins, who started his career at Virginia Tech, and Coach Hunter has more guards than he’ll know what to do with next season. If he can find a way to get consistent interior production from USC transfer Curtis Washington or keep Denny Burguillos eligible, the Panthers are going to be a team that will cause more than a few headaches for opposing coaches.

For the third time in his collegiate career, a coach will be handing the reins to Harrow.

“We’re going to put the ball in Ryan’s hands and we’re going to let him make decisions,” Hunter said. “He’s not a selfish basketball player. He makes the right play.”

For Harrow, this is his shot at redemption. This is his chance to prove that he’s more than the guy that flamed out at Kentucky. This is his opportunity to become something other than the answer to a trivia question, to prove to every Kentucky fan and every media member that questioned his ability to handle the pressure that came with playing in front of Big Blue Nation.

“They want to see if I’ve actually got the heart to lead this team,” Harrow said.

He’ll have his chance to shine in the spotlight early. Georgia State plays Vanderbilt on November 12th. Six days later, they head to Tuscaloosa for the first two rounds of the Preseason NIT. Knock off McNeese State and Alabama, and Harrow and company will be headed to Madison Square Garden for a game that will be played on ESPN.

For now, Harrow is saying all of the right things. He’s not concerned with points or assists, “it’s all about wins and losses.” He doesn’t want postseason accolades or national recognition. When asked what the perfect season would be, individually, he said, “win the Sun Belt, get into the NCAA tournament and make a run” while referencing Butler and Wichita State. He believes that a point guard, that the leader that he wants to be, is defined by nothing more than what the team accomplishes.

He knows what he needs to do.

“Keep my head straight, not getting upset with myself or upset with anybody else,” Harrow said. “Just going out there and playing basketball the way that I know that I can play basketball.”

And if you believe Coach Hunter, he can play pretty well.

“I tell people this all the time: if Ryan Harrow had played point guard on that team that Marquis Teague was on, he’s not here right now,” Hunter said.

“He’s playing in the NBA.”

ODU graduate transfer Trey Porter headed to Nevada

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Nevada is adding an immediate impact big to its roster.

The Wolf Pack received the commitment of Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter, they announced Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Porter averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks for ODU last season. He announced his decision to finish his career elsewhere last month.

“We are so excited about Trey Porter joining our Nevada Family,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Trey is an incredible athlete, has tremendous length, and has huge upside. He is a great rebounder who can score the ball in the post and face up. He has phenomenal speed for his size and will really fit in our uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”

Porter, who began his career at George Mason, shot 58.8 percent from the field last season and registered four double-doubles.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to play at a program like Nevada,” Porter said in a statement. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I could tell how invested the coaching staff, program, and university were to my success and how I would fit in with the team. I am ready to get back to Reno and get to work on next season.”

Nevada upset Cincinnati and Texas in the NCAA tournament last season to reach the Sweet 16. They finished 29-8 overall. The Wolf Pack have uncertainty with their roster with Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin all testing the NBA draft waters.

Loyola extends Porter Moser through 2026

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A trip to the Final Four might prove significantly lucrative to Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser.

The Ramblers announced Wednesday that they reached a new contract agreement with Moser that will extend his deal through 2026 with what the Chicago Tribune called a “hefty raise” on his $420,000 per year salary, citing an anonymous source.

“As I have said many times before, I am a Catholic kid from Chicago who played in the Missouri Valley Conference,” Moser said in a statement released by the school. “This is the trifecta for me. We have invested so much time and energy in this program and I’m beyond excited to continue the journey. Watching Chicago as well as Loyola students, alumni and fans get excited for this team was exactly the vision we had when we took over the program.

“I will continue to challenge our fans to fill Gentile Arena as we did for the final home game to make it one of the best college basketball atmospheres in the country.”

The Ramblers went 32-6 last year, winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles ahead of their magical run to the Final Four for the first time winning the NCAA tournament in 1963. They return three starters from the Final Four squad, including MVC player of the year Clayton Custer.

“We are excited to be able to announce a new contract for Porter that will keep him at Loyola a long time,” athletic director Steve Watson said. “He is the perfect fit for Loyola and operates his program the right way, with student-athletes who achieve excellence on the court and in the classroom and are also excellent representatives of the institution.

“We are fortunate to work at a university like Loyola, that values and has made a commitment to athletics. It is nice to reward Porter not just for an outstanding season, but also for the job he has done during his time here.”

 

Dayton adds Michigan transfer

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After two years with a limited role at Michigan, Ibi Watson is returning to his home state.

The Wolverines guard is transferring to Dayton, it was announced Wednesday.  

“We are very pleased to have Ibi join our Flyer Family,” Dayton coach Anthony Grant said in a statement.  “He is a young man who knew what he wanted after leaving a great University and winning basketball team at Michigan.  He has seen first-hand what it takes to be successful at this level.”

Watson averaged just 5.2 minutes per game during his sophomore season in Ann Arbor. He will sit out the upcoming season and then have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20.

“I know he will utilize his redshirt year to improve himself in every way,” Grant said, “and having an experienced, talented player to go against every day in practice next season will only help our younger players grow.  Ibi is an important piece of our future. Our team and campus community will enjoy having him become a Flyer.”

The Pickerington, Ohio native was a first-team all state selection as a senior when he averaged more than 19 points per game. He now joins Dwayne Cohill, Jhery Matos and Frankie Policelli as Grant’s 2018 class.

Report: NBA unlikely to change one-and-done rule before 2020 draft

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The Commission on College Basketball made a whole host of recommendations Wednesday. From increasing penalties on cheaters, to restructuring summer basketball to player representation, the report had plenty of ideas (though it omitted the most obvious).

One of its core recommendations, however, came in an area the NCAA has zero control.

The NBA draft.

The Commission suggested that the “one-and-done” rule be scrapped in favor of letting players leave straight from high school to the pros, a rule that has been collectively bargained by the NBA and its players union.

If any change is going to happen, it’s got to happen there, and it apparently won’t be in the next couple years. The NBA is unlikely to change its draft entry requirements ahead of the 2020 draft, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The subject has been broached by both the league and the union, but how any negotiation about the issue will unfold is uncertain, according to the report.

The NCAA has little leverage on the matter as the NBA and the union ultimately will act in what they believe is in their own best interests with little mind paid to what the NCAA wants. The NCAA also has little leverage in the matter as its most heavy-handed card to play is freshman ineligibility, which would seem to be an unwieldy and ill-advised option.

Disallowing an entire class to play their freshman season would likely have unintended consequences that harm college basketball while doing little to actually solve the problem The Commission set out to fix – illicit money in the game.

Commission on College Basketball Proposals: Can they actually work?

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On Wednesday morning, The Commission on College Basketball finally unveiled their findings on what changes need to be enacted in the sport to clean up the mess that has been created.

And while The Commission’s findings were far from perfect, there were some suggestions that they came up with that might actually have some benefit to the sport.

It just takes some time to actually dig them up.

Best I can tell, there are six talking points that we need to address stemming from today’s release.

Let’s work through all of them.

1. A BIG ‘NO COMMENT’ ON THE OLYMPIC MODEL AND CHANGES TO AMATEURISM RULES

We discussed this in depth in a column already posted on the site, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the bottom-line is this: Amateurism rules are never going to work, at least not in the current form. There is too much money on the line for too many people. The Commission opted not to address the issues involving amateurism because of pending litigation involving the NCAA’s use of an athlete’s name and likeness, but based on some of the comments that Condoleeza Rice made, it seems as if they at least realized that amateurism is a root cause of the problems they were trying to answer.

Hopefully, change will be coming at some point.

2. BEGGING (BLACKMAILING?) THE NBA AND NBPA TO CHANGE THE ONE-AND-DONE RULE

The one-and-done rule, which has come to define the sport of college basketball over the course of the last 12 years, is not a college basketball rule. It is an NBA rule, which means that the NCAA is essentially powerless to change the minimum age requirements that NBA owners wanted back in 2006, when they stopped allowing high school kids to declare for the NBA draft.

The Commission’s response?

To recommend that they combat the one-and-done rule by considering reinstating freshman ineligibility or by punishing programs that recruit one-and-done players by forcing them to lose a scholarship for each athlete that leaves school after one season.

Both of those suggestions are, of course, undeniably and unbelievably idiotic.

In the last 11 drafts, there have been an average of 10.2 freshmen that have been selected. This year, there are 17 freshmen that have declared for the draft and signed with an agent. This is in a sport with 351 teams that are all allowed to give out 13 scholarships; do that math, and there were roughly 4,500 Division I college basketball players. The Commission suggesting that it is a good idea to make those 1,100-or-so other Division I freshmen ineligible for a year because they’re mad the NBA forces 1.5 percent of the class to enroll makes me wonder why we should take any of their other suggestions seriously.

Simply put: This is an empty threat.

The other option, forcing a school to have one-and-done players count against one of their 13 scholarships for one season after they leave, is just as dumb. It’s not going to stop programs from recruiting those players, but it is going to make scholarship opportunities for other athletes disappear into thin air. For an organization that claims to have the best interest of “student-athletes” in mind, revoking scholarships in anyway is and always will be hypocritical. It should never happen.

And that’s before we get into the idea that the one-and-done players are the be-all and end-all of what’s happening here. They’re not. Brian Bowen, the central figure in the allegations made by the FBI that resulted in Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, was not a one-and-done prospect. Silvio De Sousa, who was allegedly funneled money by two different shoe companies to earn a commitment to two different programs, is not a one-and-done prospect. Nine of the 15 players that were mentioned in February’s Yahoo report as receiving money and/or loans were one-and-done players. The practice of boosters paying the best players dates back to the 50s. John Wooden’s legacy is, in part, a result of Sam Gilbert being flush with disposable income.

There is, always was and always will be a black market for the best players entering college basketball, whether those are the top 15-20 players in each class — the one-and-dones that will go straight to the pros — or the players ranked in the 20-40 range, that will spend a few years on campus, developing into the crafty veterans that have won Villanova and North Carolina the last three titles.

Shoe companies with nine-figure sponsorship deals with universities want to protect their investment. Coaches that get seven-figure raises and multi-year contract extensions when they win big want to win big. Boosters with deep pockets that love their school’s basketball team are always going to look for a way to get the best players on campus.

That’s a college basketball “problem” that’s only a “problem” because something as stupid and old-fashioned as amateurism still exists.

It’s not a one-and-done problem.

3. ALLOWING PLAYERS ACCESS TO AGENT REPRESENTATION

This is certainly a good thing.

I’ve said all along that it is silly to think that it’s a bad thing for kids that have earning potential that reaches eight or nine figures cannot have a professional advising them on what they can do. There are details that are going to need to be worked out — like, for example, how the NCAA handles the inevitable loans that agents are going to make to the players they sign — but without question this is a good thing.

4. UNDERCLASSMEN THAT AREN’T DRAFTED CAN RETURN TO SCHOOL

In theory, I like this suggestion, but in practice, I think that it is going to be somewhat more complicated than people realize.

For starters, the NBA draft is in late June. Players start the process of declaring for the draft in mid-March, when they get knocked out of whatever tournament their team ends up playing in. That means there are more than three months where they will be away from their team, their coaching staffs and, potentially, out of class while they train and prepare for becoming a professional.

The other side of it is that players getting selected late in the second round often end up coming nowhere near making that team’s roster. Many times, agents and teams will already be in touch about the possibility of a second round pick signing a training camp deal or playing with that organization’s G League team. There are people that will tell you it’s better to go undrafted than it is to be selected late in the second round because it puts the player on the market and lets them pick a destination that is the best instead of being forced to go somewhere based on getting picked.

The sentiment here is great, but I’m not sure it is as simple as it seems on paper.

5. CHANGING THE WAY SUMMER BASKETBALL WORKS

This is where things stop making sense.

With all due respect to the people that were on The Commission, I’m not sure that any of them — outside of John Thompson III — truly have a feel for how AAU and grassroots basketball truly operates. Do you think that Condoleeza Rice has ever actually been to an Under Armour Association event? Have they spoken to the organizers of events like Hoop Group’s Pitt Jam Fest or the people that run Nike’s EYBL?

“We create more opportunities than anyone within the system,” said once source that helps organize events in the summer.

What it seems like The Commission is proposing is bringing summer basketball in-house, whether that is under the umbrella of the NCAA itself, USA Basketball, the NBA or all of the above. The problem with that is that there are so many different levels to college basketball and college basketball recruiting. I played college basketball. The coaches that recruited me at the Division III level saw me when I was playing on an AAU team, but the idea that there would be any benefit for anyone if a player of my caliber and one of the top players in the country were to be at the same event is ludicrous.

Then how do you determine who plays at what events? Do you really want the NCAA running hundreds of summer tournaments that include each include many hundreds of teams? How are they going to determine which players go to which events? How are they going to determine which coaches are allowed to be at which events?

And, this may be the most important part, they aren’t going to eliminate shoe companies from getting involved at the youth level. If anything, if they take away the access coaches have to shoe company events, they’ll only be making the people that run scouting services that much richer.

Asking for transparency from these apparel companies isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but then will the NCAA provide transparency into what happens with the billions of dollars that they bring in?

As one source so eloquently put it, the NCAA running their own camps is “Lolololol”.

Pretty much sums it up.

6. CHANGING ENFORCEMENT

One of the proposals that The Commission made is for stricter punishments for those that go outside the rules — longer postseason bans for schools, lifetime bans for serial offenders, punishments for schools that hire offenders. I guess that would be a deterrent, but not everything that goes on here involves people associated with the NCAA or the schools.

But that is beside the point.

Because the real issue is that the NCAA cannot dig any of this stuff up themselves. The enforcement arm is toothless, and while I do think that hiring independent investigators would help, the truth is that this was all brought to light because the FBI is allowed to tap phones and send in undercover agents that can splash around thousands of dollars of government money.

What independent investigators is going to be able to do that?