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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.”

Looking Forward: Here’s what the Atlantic 10 has in store for the 2016-17 season

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The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Atlantic 10 over the next six months. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Hot coaching names stay put: The A-10 doesn’t lack for quality coaches, with some being discussed for major coaching vacancies on an annual basis. Two that fit the mold are Dayton’s Archie Miller and Rhode Island’s Dan Hurley, with the latter facing some questions in regards to the Rutgers opening earlier this spring. Hurley decided to stay put in Kingston for another season, choosing a talented roster that’s approaching full strength after an injury-riddled 2015-16 instead of taking on a major rebuilding job in his home state. Miller, whose name seemingly comes up regarding every major opening, also has a deep roster to work with next season at Dayton. Unless the opening is a truly elite one, why mess with happiness? VCU’s Will Wade also opted to remain in Richmond. He was targeted by Vanderbilt after Kevin Stallings left for Pitt.

2. The conference’s battle for respect is a continuous one: For those who watch the Atlantic 10 on a consistent basis, there’s no doubt that this is a quality league. But Selection Sunday left a bad taste in the mouths of some, the result of VCU getting a ten-seed or regular season tri-champion St. Bonaventure being left out of the field completely. It would be nice to say that the remedy is to simply win more games, but when it comes to getting teams in the NCAA tournament field who really knows what it takes when discussing a conference like the Atlantic 10 (and the league rated well in out of conference RPI and strength of schedule). The good news for the league is that it has multiple teams capable of playing their way into the national polls and staying there, with Dayton and URI leading the way.

3. Saint Joseph’s getting used to life without top three scorers: Phil Martelli’s Hawks won the Atlantic 10 tournament title and gave top seed Oregon all they wanted in the second round of the NCAA tournament, with DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles leading the way. But those two, along with Aaron Brown, have all moved on meaning that Saint Joseph’s will have to account for the loss of their top three scorers from last season. The positive is that there are options, including guards Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble and forwards James Demery and Pierfrancesco Oliva, to call upon. But making that jump from supplementary piece to key cog in the attack can be a difficult one for some, and how the returning Hawks handle that shift will have a major impact on their season.

4. Incoming transfers will have a significant impact on the conference race: Many Atlantic 10 programs benefitted from the transfer market, whether it was the more conventional transfer (sit out a year before playing) or those of the grad student variety. Dayton (power forward Josh Cunningham) and Rhode Island (shooting guard Stanford Robinson) will both have transfers available, as will teams such as La Salle, George Washington (see below) and Duquesne. Duquesne’s most noteworthy transfer additions are of the grad student variety, with Kale Abrahamson (Drake) and Emile Blackman (Niagara) needing to be key contributors from the start with the Dukes losing the productive tandem of Micah Mason and Derrick Colter. Also adding immediately eligible transfers were George Washington (Patrick Steeves, Harvard) and Fordham (Javontae Hawkins, Eastern Kentucky).

Davidson's Jack Gibbs (12) tries to drive past Iowa's Mike Gesell during the first half of an NCAA tournament college basketball game in the Round of 64 in Seattle, Friday, March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Davidson’s Jack Gibbs (12) (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • La Salle’s transfers: The Explorers’ lack of depth last season placed too much upon the shoulders of Jordan Price, with the team struggling to get wins in spite of his lofty point totals. Dr. John Giannini won’t lack for option in 2016-17, thanks in large part to the transfers who will be able to take the floor. Pookie Powell, B.J. Johnson, Demetrius Henry and Tony Washington will all be eligible after sitting out last season, and Arizona State transfer Savon Goodman is eligible to compete immediately as a graduate student. The question: how well will the pieces mesh together?
  • Jaren Sina, George Washington: Another transfer, the former Seton Hall guard will be a key figure for Mike Lonergan’s Colonials. As a sophomore Sina averaged 7.0 points and 2.3 assists per game, but with Alex Mitola out of eligibility and Paul Jorgensen transferring he’ll be asked to run the show for a team that welcomes back Yuta Watanabe and Tyler Cavanaugh.
  • DeJon Jarreau and Brison Gresham, Massachusetts: The two Louisiana natives wanted to attend college together, and in the end their desire to do so benefitted the Minutemen. Of the two Jarreau may be the more important figure early on, as the four-star guard will be asked to help fill the void left by the departures of Trey Davis and Jabarie Hinds on the perimeter.
  • De’Riante Jenkins, VCU: Will Wade landed a quality four-member freshman class, with the 6-foot-5 Jenkins being the crown jewel. Ranked 60th in the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com, Jenkins is the second-highest ranking incoming freshman in the Atlantic 10 (Jarreau is 39th). And with Melvin Johnson graduating, there’s room for the athletic wing to have an immediate impact at VCU.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • L.G. Gill, Duquesne: Not sure how surprising this move truly is, especially considering the current transfer climate. Gill graduates this spring, and with the rules being what they are he can use his final season of eligibility at another school. But the loss of his team’s leading rebounder from a season ago means that head coach Jim Ferry will have to account for the departure of his top three scorers from last season (Derrick Colter and Micah Mason being the others).
  • Paul Jorgensen, George Washington: With Alex Mitola and Joe McDonald both out of eligibility, it appeared as if “Prince Harry of Harlem” was in line for an increase in playing time (averaging just over 15 mpg as a sophomore) in 2016-17. Instead Jorgensen decided to transfer, as his style didn’t always seem to mesh with what GW wanted to do offensively, and he’ll complete his final two seasons of eligibility elsewhere. The move leaves Mike Longeran’s team with even less experience on the perimeter, with Jaren Sina competing with underclassmen such as sophomore Jordan Roland for the point guard spot.

COACHING CHANGES

  • Travis Ford, Saint Louis: After a busy spring in 2015 the Billikens made the lone coaching change in the Atlantic 10 this spring, with the former Oklahoma State head coach replacing the dismissed Jim Crews. Ford has his work cut out for him too, as SLU’s talent issues that resulted in Crews’ firing won’t be remedied overnight. Of Saint Louis’ top five scorers from a season ago three have moved on, with Mike Crawford (10.3 ppg) and Jermaine Bishop (8.9 ppg) being the leading returning scorers. Ford attracted his fair share of talented recruits while in Stillwater, and the hope at SLU will be that he can do similar things while also developing that talent into a team capable of winning in the Atlantic 10.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

G Jack Gibbs (Davidson) – Player of the Year
G E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island)
G Jaylen Adams (St. Bonaventure)
F Charles Cooke III (Dayton)
F Hassan Martin (Rhode Island)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

1. Dayton: The Flyers return most of their key cogs, and a Charles Cooke III withdrawal from the NBA Draft would make them a Top 25 team.
2. Rhode Island: Health issues were the biggest problem for Rhody. With Matthews, Martin and Terrell among those back, URI can make a run at the A-10 crown.
3. VCU: Losing Melvin Johnson hurts, but VCU returns both experience and talent. They’ll be fine.
4. Davidson: Led by one of the nation’s top scorers in Jack Gibbs, the Wildcats return forward Peyton Aldridge as well.
5. Richmond: This is a big year for Chris Mooney, but he’s got some key pieces returning led by T.J. Cline and ShawnDre’ Jones.
6. George Washington: The Colonials have some key losses to account for, but returning Watanabe and Cavanaugh will help.
7. St. Bonaventure: Yes they lose Marcus Posley and Dion Wright. But Jaylen Adams returns, and it’s time to stop overlooking the job Mark Schmidt’s done as head coach.
8. Saint Joseph’s: Losing your top three scorers would hurt any team. The good news for SJU is that they’re rising sophomores are pretty good.
9. La Salle: The depth issues of last season have been remedied by the influx of transfers. But will all the pieces fit together?
10. Fordham: Jeff Neubauer has a budding all-conference player in Joseph Chartouny at his disposal, but the loss of Ryan Rhoomes hurts.
11. Massachusetts: The freshman class will help the Minutemen down the line, but this team needs to defend far better than they did a season ago.
12. Duquesne: Abrahamson and Blackman were productive stats-wise at prior stops, but can they help vault Jim Ferry’s team up the A-10 standings?
13. George Mason: Losing Shevon Thompson doesn’t help Dave Paulsen’s rebuilding efforts, but give him time. He’ll get Mason headed in the right direction.
14. Saint Louis: Speaking of needing time, Travis Ford is faced with quite the rebuilding project at SLU given the departures and their recent struggles.

USC’s Julian Jacobs to sign with an agent, turn professional

Southern California guard Julian Jacobs (12) dunks on Washington State forward Junior Longrus (15) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Pullman, Wash. Southern California beat Washington State 90-77.(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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USC guard Julian Jacobs will sign with an agent and forego his final season of college eligibility, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

Jacobs averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards for the Trojans last season, operating in the dual-point guard back court that Andy Enfield employed. A terrific athlete at 6-foot-3, Jacobs was one of the more entertaining players in the country to watch this past season given the style with which USC played.

But all of the info that Jacobs had received during the process told him to return to school. He wasn’t invited to the draft combine and the consensus seems to be that if he someone plays his way into getting drafted, it will be as a late-second round pick.

Losing Jacobs is a major blow for the Trojans, who looked like they could legitimately compete with Arizona and Oregon for a Pac-12 title next season. They’re still a tournament team and a top 25 team without Jacobs — Jordan McLaughlin’s presence is the biggest reason why — but Jacobs was something of a steadying presence in their back court. And if they end up losing Nikola Jovanovic as well, Andy Enfield’s team may take a step backwards from last season.

The news was first reported by ESPN.

UNLV’s Menzies fills out staff with 3 hires

New UNLV men's basketball coach Marvin Menzies smiles during a news conference after the UNLV board of regents  approved his contract, Friday, April 22, 2016  in Las Vegas. The boards voted 12-1 on Friday to approve a five-year, $3.75 million deal for Menzies.  (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP) LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
(L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) New UNLV men’s basketball coach Marvin Menzies has filled out his staff with three assistant coaches.

The school announced on Thursday the hiring of Andre LaFleur, Rob Jeter and Eric Brown.

Jeter was the head coach at Milwaukee for 11 seasons, winning 20 or more games five times. His record of 185-170 leaves him one short of the school record for most victories.

La Fleur spent the past five seasons as associate head coach at Providence under Ed Cooley after 10 years working for Jim Calhoun at Connecticut.

Brown has been an assistant coach at Long Beach State the last nine years.

Four-star 2017 shooting guard commits to Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams celebrates a play in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP) LOCAL STATIONS OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; LOCAL PRINT OUT (SALEM TIMES REGISTER; FINCASTLE HERALD; CHRISTIANSBURG NEWS MESSENGER; RADFORD NEWS JOURNAL; ROANOKE STAR SENTINEL; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP
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Recruiting, and on-court results, have picked up at Virginia Tech since Buzz Williams took over as head coach. In his second year at the helm the Hokies won ten conference games, and in reaching the Postseason NIT made their first postseason appearance since 2011.

Thursday night Virginia Tech landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2017, as four-star shooting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker made his pledge.

The 6-foot-5 Alexander-Walker, who’s ranked 91st in his class by Rivals.com, also took official visits to Maryland and USC before making his pledge to the ACC program. Alexander-Walker attends Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but as a native of Canada plays his grassroots basketball for the Canada Elite program on the Under Armour Association circuit.

Good with either hand, Alexander-Walker can play either on or off the basketball. And that versatility should serve him well in a system that places a high value on “switch-ables,” or players who can fill multiple roles.

The Canada connection paid off for Virginia Tech in the recruitment of Alexander-Walker, with assistant coach Jamie McNeilly being a native of the country himself and having a connection to the Walker family. The Hokies will lose two perimeter players at the end of the 2016-17 season in Devin Wilson and Seth Allen, which will give Alexander-Walker the opportunity to earn minutes as a freshman.

Oakland lands former Oklahoma State guard Clark

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When point guard Stevie Clark began his career at Oklahoma State in 2013, the Top 100 prospect was expected by many to be an impact player for the Cowboys. Things didn’t go as planned however, as off-court issues ultimately led to Clark’s dismissal from the program before his sophomore season. Add in a lawsuit filed by Clark in which he alleged that he was forced by the school to take psychotropic drugs, and it’s safe to say that his time in Stillwater was anything but smooth.

Clark ultimately landed at Arkansas Baptist College, and on Thursday it was reported by the Detroit Free Press that he’s committed to Oakland University to play for head coach Greg Kampe. Clark joins a program with an immediate need at the point, with All-American Kahlil Felder having entered the NBA Draft and hired an agent as well.

The obvious question regarding Clark is whether or not he’s managed to take care of business off the court, and in an interview with Mark Snyder of the Free Press the Oklahoma native made note of the benefits of getting away from home for college.

Playing in Rochester, far from his home, will serve him well, he said.

“Anywhere away from home is the best thing,” Clark said. “It’s just hard balancing everything being close to home.”

Clark will be one of the options Kampe has to choose from at the point, with incoming freshmen Brailen Neely and Billy Thomas also among the new arrivals, and sophomore Jaevin Cumberland looking to earn more playing time than the 5.6 minutes per contest he averaged as a freshman.