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Moving home has helped Ryan Harrow improve on, and off, the court

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Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter only has two rules, two requirements, for the kids that play on his basketball teams to stay on the court.

Assuming they get their grades, don’t cause a ruckus on campus and generally carry themselves as decent human beings on a day-to-day basis off the court, all he asks is that: A) they work hard, and B) they have fun. It’s not a crazy philosophy. The guys on his roster are on his roster for a reason, and as long as they’re playing hard for themselves and their teammates, and as long as they’re truly enjoying the opportunity to play basketball at this level, Hunter will be happy.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to make mistakes,” Hunter told this week, “but you have to play hard for me and you have to enjoy it.”

And while it took a little effort to teach a guy as talented as Ryan Harrow what ‘playing hard’ actually meant, the real issue that Hunter initially had with his former McDonald’s All-American point guard was getting him to have fun, to enjoy the fact that he was still a basketball player by trade.

“I don’t think I saw him smile until right before the Vanderbilt game [on November 12th],” Hunter said of Harrow, who arrived on campus in June. “He had a huge smile on his face. We used to bring him in and say, ‘man, it’s just basketball’. Then all of a sudden, in December, even when we lost a couple games in a row, he’s walking in, patting me on the back, ‘What’s up, Coach?’. I mean he’s a completely different kid than he was when he walked in. It’s almost like two different people.”

Harrow’s story has been well-publicized at this point.

He began his collegiate career at N.C. State, leaving after one season to enroll at Kentucky, where he redshirted during the team’s run to the national title and took over the point guard role for Marquis Teague when he left for the NBA. What happened in Lexington that season was, for lack of a better word, a disaster. The Wildcats personnel just didn’t fit, the team struggled to gain any momentum in the SEC despite the conference being down and Harrow took the brunt of the criticism for the team’s trip to the NIT.

What wasn’t discussed publicly, however, was that Harrow’s father, Mark, had suffered a stroke back in Atlanta during the summer of 2012. He had trouble getting up by himself or dressing himself, making the simplicities of living day-to-day strenuous tasks. “When I saw his dad on the first day,” Hunter said, “he came into practice and he looked awful. I was like, ‘I don’t think he can make it through the season.'”

That weighed on Ryan, and when coupled when the stress of struggling inside the bubble that is Lexington and Big Blue Nation, and the embarrassment of a McDonald’s All-American returning to his hometown to play for a team in the Sun Belt Conference, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that it was hard for Harrow to enjoy basketball.

Being at home helped him, but more importantly, it has also helped Ryan’s father. Mark is now able to watch his son play ball on a daily basis. “Coach lets him in [to practice] … sometimes,” Ryan said, chuckling. “He’ll come by and just watch. He’s definitely at all the games, even the away games he tries to make.” And it’s more than just basketball. Ryan lives on campus, but his father’s house is just a 15 minute drive away. A quick phone call, and the two can be breaking bread for lunch, watching a movie or settling in on the couch for a night of hoops.

“It makes me a lot happier. I don’t have to worry as much. I’m right here,” Ryan said. “I know seeing me play basketball makes him happy, so I’m glad that I’m doing well and he’s able to see all this.”

That’s the key, here.

Ryan is doing really well. He’s playing his best basketball since he was a high school senior, and Georgia State is having more success than anyone in the program thought they could entering the season. Harrow is second on the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points and 4.6 assists, while the Panthers shook off a 1-6 start against Division I opponents to run out to win their first 10 Sun Belt games. They currently sit at 13-1 in league play, and a win at Texas-Arlington on Thursday night would clinch at least a share of league’s regular season title.

And here’s the irony: the turning point of the season came when Hunter made the decision to play Ryan out of position. After an overtime loss to Southern Miss dropped the Panthers to 1-6 against Division I teams, Hunter turned the reins over to Devonta White. Previously, White and Harrow had been splitting time at the point guard spot. Hunter moved Harrow off the ball, a role that the redshirt junior hadn’t played since his high school days.

It worked. Georgia State is winning, in large part due to the fact that Harrow has accepted his role on this team. He’s embraced his teammates, trusting them more than he did at the beginning of the season. The example Hunter used came in Saturday’s thrilling, last-second win over Louisiana-Lafayette. Back in a loss to FIU in November, on the final possession of a one-point game, Hunter drew up a play to get the ball in Harrow’s hands.

“Three guys ran at him, we ran the play and he shot it and missed and we were devastated,” Hunter said. “On Saturday, [we ran the] same exact play and he makes the pass to Manny Atkins for a three.” And to Hunter, that change encapsulates the changes Ryan has made, the strides he’s taken to become a better player.

And, frankly, it’s really not hard to make the connection here.

The son comes home to help the ailing father. The father gets better being closer to the son. Stress rolls off the son’s shoulders seeing the father get better, allowing him to thrive. Seeing his son succeed brings life back to the father. We see it from a distant. For Hunter, whose son, R.J., is Georgia State’s leading scorer, it’s been special to see it happen up close.

“When I saw his dad on Saturday, his dad looked terrific,” Hunter said. “Walking, smiling, he looks healthy now. It’s just amazing what happened with the two of them being back home together. For dad to be able to see Ryan play and practice, and more importantly for a father to see his kid happy, I think it’s been tremendous [for Ryan].”

“The weight of the world is off him now.”

“Basketball’s becoming a lot more fun,” Harrow said. “I just saw what I went through and how I was previously, and I just try to keep myself in good spirits and always try to laugh because I don’t want to go back to that place that I was at before I got here.”

“It’s just my mindset. I’m not really worried about the spotlight or the individual achievements. I’m happy that we’re winning, obviously, but just the way I think now is different. I don’t let too much get to me after all that I’ve been through.”

College Basketball Talk’s Top 25: Xavier, Syracuse, Texas A&M are big winners

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At this point in the season, I think it is still too early to solely base rankings off of on-the-court results. That’s why you’re going to find North Carolina higher in this poll than likely anywhere else on the internet. Until we see what the Tar Heels look like with Marcus Paige — which, mind you, could happen on Tuesday night when they host Maryland — I’m not sure I’m ready to drop them, even for a team that looks as good as Michigan State or Kansas.

The biggest risers of the week: Xavier and Syracuse, who both won big tournaments over the Thanksgiving holiday. They also both happened to knock off rivals in the process, as the Musketeers blew out Dayton while the Orange knocked off UConn.

1. Kentucky (6-0, LW: No. 1): Kentucky got a real scare over the weekend, as Tyler Ulis hyper-extended his elbow against South Florida. He appears to be just fine.

2. Maryland (6-0, LW: No. 2): The Terps have not looked great early on this season, but they’re going to get a real test on Tuesday when they visit UNC.

3. North Carolina (5-1, LW: No. 3): Here’s to hoping Marcus Paige is healthy when Maryland comes to visit this week.

4. Michigan State (7-0, LW: No. 4): Denzel Valentine has been sensational this season, but the most impressive part of Michigan State’s win over Providence on Sunday was that they did it while Valentine was in foul trouble and struggling to shoot the ball.

5. Kansas (4-1, LW: No. 6): The Jayhawks had a pretty good week. They won Maui, they blew out a good Vanderbilt team, Wayne Selden showed up and Cheick Diallo got eligible. I hope Bill Self bought some lottery tickets.

6. Villanova (6-0, LW: No. 5): I really like the Wildcats this year, I do, but I dropped them a spot for two reasons: 1. I thought Kansas was better entering the season and the Jayhawks looked terrific this week in Maui, before Cheick Diallo played, and 2. Villanova hasn’t beaten anyone of note yet. Next Monday they get Oklahoma. We’ll know then.

7. Iowa State (5-0, LW: No. 7): The Cyclones are 5-0 with wins over three high-major programs, but their best win may be the win over Chattanooga. I think we’ll really get a feel for how good this team next month, when, in a 12-day stretch, they get Iowa, Northern Iowa and Cincinnati on the road.

8. Oklahoma (4-0, LW: No. 8): The Sooners put a whooping on Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon, the kind of performance that made it very clear Oklahoma is a contender this season and Wisconsin is not. Buddy Hield has been terrific, but so has big man Ryan Spangler.

9. Duke (6-1, LW: No. 10): The loss to Kentucky continues to look like the aberration in Duke’s early season schedule, as they rolled over Utah State and Yale this week. The big news: Luke Kennard has finally found his rhythm, as he scored 22 points and went 4-for-5 from the floor on Sunday.

10. Virginia (5-1, LW: No. 11): Virginia has won four straight since their loss at GW, scoring at least 80 points in every game and never giving up more than 66. It’s not the stiffest of competition, but it should go to show you (like I said at the time) that the loss at GW said more about GW than Virginia.

11. Xavier (7-0, LW: No. 21)
12. Purdue (6-0, LW: No. 15)
13. Vanderbilt (5-1, LW: No. 16)
14. Miami (5-1, LW: No. 9)
15. Syracuse (6-0, LW: UR)
16. Texas A&M (6-1, LW: UR)
17. Gonzaga (4-1, LW: No. 17)
18. Oregon (5-0, LW: No. 25)
19. Cincinnati (7-0, LW: No. 20)
20. Baylor (4-1, LW: No. 22)
21. Butler (4-1, LW: No. 23)
22. UConn (4-2, LW: No. 18)
23. Providence (6-1, LW: UR)
24. West Virginia (6-0, LW: UR)
25. SMU (4-0, LW: UR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 12 Cal, No. 13 Arizona, No. 14 Indiana, No. 19 Notre Dame, No. 24 Wichita State

WEEKLY AWARDS: Denzel Valentine’s big week, Kansas makes a statement

Denzel Valentine
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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

In the title game of the Wooden Legacy, a game that was billed as a matchup between the two best players in college basketball — Valentine and Kris Dunn — Valentine was downright bad …

… by his standards. He finished with “just” 17 points, six assists and five boards. I say “just” because, in the previous two games of the tournament, the Spartan superstar averaged 30.5 points, 10.0 boards and 8.0 assists. He’s been, hands down, the best player in college basketball this season, and that didn’t change this week.


  • Ben Bentil, Providence: Kris Dunn is the guy that is going to get all the national praise, but it was Bentil’s emergence that was critical for the Friars. He averaged 21.7 points and 6.0 boards in three games in the Wooden Legacy, carrying PC when Dunn was battling foul issues.
  • Wayne Selden, Kansas: The highlight of Selden’s week was scoring 25 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the Maui title game win over No. 19 Vanderbilt. For the week, he averaged 19.3 points and shot 12-for-17 from three.
  • Justin Robinson, Monmouth: Robinson averaged 25.7 points in three games for Monmouth at the Advocare Invitational. The Hawks beat No. 17 Notre Dame and USC in the process, only losing to Dayton by three.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Remember when Justin Jackson was struggling? He averaged 21.5 points, 9.0 boards and 5.0 assists in wins over Northwestern and Kansas State. That came on the heels of a 25-point performance in the loss at Northern Iowa.
  • Henry Ellenson, Marquette: Ellenson notched three straight double-doubles for the Golden Eagles this week, which included 16 points and 11 boards in a win over Ben Simmons and LSU.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas headed out to Maui as a team that many weren’t really sure what to make of. They looked good against Michigan State for 30 minutes, then they blew that game as Denzel Valentine went bananas. They had as much depth as anyone in the country, but Brannen Greene was suspended, Cheick Diallo was ineligible and Wayne Selden was the most notable of a handful of talented players that had been somewhere between inconsistent and ineffective this year.

That all changed in Maui — well, other than Greene’s suspension — as Kansas rolled over Chaminade, UCLA and Vanderbilt to bring home the tournament title. Blowing out Chaminade was to be expected. But beating down a talented UCLA team? Dominating a very good Vanderbilt squad? That’s the Kansas we’ve been hoping to see show up for a few years now. The question is whether or not it’s sustainable, and at least on paper, it appears to be. Selden’s shooting percentages will come back to earth, but his raw numbers are less important than his confidence and aggressiveness. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are going to continue to take pressure off of each other in the back court. Perry Ellis isn’t going anywhere.

I questioned whether or not Kansas was truly one of the nation’s elite when the season started. I think they answered that question for me.


  • Xavier: The Musketeers not only won the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, they blew out in-state — and former Atlantic 10 — rival Dayton in the finals.
  • Syracuse: The Orange are going to be a factor in the ACC this season. How much? I don’t know. But after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis by knocking off No. 18 UConn and No. 25 Texas A&M, it’s clear they’re going to be involved all season.
  • Northeastern: The Huskies picked up a road win against No. 15 Miami on this buzzer-beating jumper.
  • Arkansas-Little Rock: The Trojans picked up their second huge road win of the year, going into Tulsa and knocking off the Golden Hurricane. They’re now 5-0 on the season, having also won at SDSU.
  • Tournament winners: West Virginia knocked off Richmond and San Diego State to bring home the Las Vegas Invitational title, No. 24 Cincinnati beat Nebraska and George Washington in the Barclays Center Classic and Marquette knocked off LSU and Arizona State to win the Legends Classic.


Tuesday: No. 2 Maryland at No. 9 North Carolina, 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday: Butler at No. 24 Cincinnati, 7:00 p.m.
Wednesday: Louisville at No. 3 Michigan State, 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday: No. 13 Indiana at No. 6 Duke, 9:15 p.m.
Saturday: No. 11 Arizona at No. 10 Gonzaga, 3:15 p.m.