No program in college hoops expects to lose more of its freshmen than Kentucky basketball, but next year’s Wildcats will actually have some sophomores worth celebrating. The top returning scorers on the roster are Aaron and Andrew Harrison, the twin-brother backcourt that came alive during last March’s run to the NCAA title game.
Traditionally, the biggest leap in the development of a college player comes between his freshman and sophomore seasons. Michael Carter-Williams’ second year at Syracuse, for example, saw him transform from a forgettable reserve into a lottery pick. The Harrisons’ own NBA hopes would certainly benefit from a huge improvement next seasons, but the chances are that their gains will be more modest than they (or Big Blue’s fans) might like.
As astounding as John Calipari’s track record has been with getting his players drafted in the first round, his development of the freshmen who stick around hasn’t been nearly so impressive.
Among the plausible one-and-dones who have stayed for a second season in Lexington—Terrence Jones, Doron Lamb, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein—the closest thing to a success story is Poythress, who went from a disappointing starter to a productive reserve.
That’s not to say that any of those players struggled in their second college seasons. Rather, they turned in very similar performances to their already-solid freshman campaigns. Lamb, for example, improved his scoring average marginally—12.3 to 13.7 points per game—and showed comparably minor changes in his peripheral stats (including a slight dip in his amazing three-point shooting percentage, from .486 to .466).
One of the reasons that those sophomores haven’t rewritten the record books is that they’re sharing the floor with another year’s worth of Coach Cal’s uber-recruits. Jones, in particular, saw his performance drop in his second season partly because he was playing alongside the bigger, more-talented freshman Anthony Davis, and the ball just wasn’t coming his way as often.
With that precedent in mind, the Harrisons likely have a great year ahead for their team, but a less remarkable one as individuals.
After all, point guard Andrew spent much of his freshman year struggling just to keep the offense in sync. Even in the NCAA tournament, when he was playing his best ball of the season by a wide margin, his defense verged on becoming a liability, and his ball security (at 4.0 turnovers per game) was awful.
Aaron Harrison, for his part, became an instant legend with his back-to-back game-winning treys against Michigan and Wisconsin. He also managed just 14 additional points in the two games combined, and even a late-season hot streak left his overall three-point accuracy at a pedestrian .356.
Even with the confidence of a strong NCAA tournament showing, it’s unlikely that either brother is going to change too dramatically next season. Andrew will be a better defender, Aaron will be a more accurate shooter, but neither is going to set the world on fire the way Davis (or their own classmate Julius Randle, at times) did as a freshman.
The duo is going to score a few more points and dish out a few more assists, but that's not enough to transform them into the second coming of John Wall or Tony Delk. They’re looking at All-SEC rather than All-America honors as a realistic goal.
Of course, if those accolades come with a national title for the ‘Cats, neither Harrison brother is going to complain one bit.