A Basketball State?

Evil Kentucky deserves Texas support: Julius Randle, Harrison twins bring grounded Lone Star pride

Evil Kentucky deserves undying Texas support in Final Four

Andrew Harrison Kentucky
Andrew Harrison felt the pressure lift from the supersized expectations of Kentucky when his dad talked to him. Photo courtesy of Hoop Times
Julius Randle Kentucky
This Final Four is essentially a home game tournament for Kentucky star Julius Randle. Photo courtesy of Hoop Times
John Calipari on sideline
John Calipari swears he made a secret tweak to turn around Kentucky's new Fab 5. Collegeinsider.com
Harrison Twins Kentucky
The Harrison Twins — Andrew and Aaron — bring Houston to the Final Four. Photo courtesy of Hoop Times
Andrew Harrison Kentucky
Julius Randle Kentucky
John Calipari on sideline
Harrison Twins Kentucky

Rooting for Kentucky basketball is like pulling for Mark Zuckerberg. Or Vladmir Putin. There's something a little untoward about it, and it can be hard to feel right with the decision.

Kentucky basketball may not really be evil, but it sure makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The Wildcats are the elephant in Jerry World's supersized room, immensely talented and, to large swaths of America, immensely unlikable.

Kentucky's a brand that's been saddled with the supposed woes of college basketball — and it's hard to argue, it often hasn't been deserved through the years.

 What the Wildcats are is Texas strong — a group that's fueled by work ethic of the Lone Star State and strong parents who never let their kids give up.

Only this Kentucky basketball team — the one nonchalantly striding past those mammoth Final Four signs at AT&T Stadium, a sports palace still capable of rendering first-time visitors slack jawed at the scale of it all — is more than worthy of your temporary allegiance.

These Wildcats aren't underdogs even if another eighth seed that went on to win an NCAA championship is considered one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all time. No, even Kentucky's ever-promoting coach John Calipari — the man comically lobbying to change the term "one and done" to "succeed and proceed" — wouldn't try and sell that one. Not with all the McDonald's All-Americans on his roster.

What the Wildcats are is Texas strong — a group that's fueled by work ethic of the Lone Star State and strong parents who never let their kids give up.

If there's a hometown team in this North Texas Final Four, it's Kentucky. Sixty percent of Calipari's starting lineup — linchpin forward Julius Randle of Plano Prestonwood Christian and back court twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison of Travis High in the Houston area — comes from Texas. The coach swears it's not by design.

"We just happened to have three kids we wanted that happened to be from the state of Texas," Calipari says.

Still, standing on this stage Friday, a day before Kentucky faces Wisconsin in the marquee late game of Final Four Saturday, it looks an awfully lot like grand design.

"We're definitely all about representing Texas," Aaron Harrison says. "It's a big part of who we are."

A bigger part is who the Texas trio's parents are. How's this for setting an example of keeping your commitments? Carolyn Kyles — the single mom who raised Randle, the force and soon-to-be NBA multimillionaire who Calipari says is "played like Shaq was played in college" by defenders — made the decision to leave in the middle of Kentucky's ultra-tense Elite Eight game with Michigan in order to get back to Dallas in time for work on Monday morning.

 If there's a hometown team in this North Texas Final Four, it's Kentucky. Sixty percent of Calipari's starting lineup comes from Texas.

Kyles admits that her supervisor in the accounting department of the energy company where she works would have allowed her to miss a day of work — or at least show up late — to catch the end of the biggest game of her son's life. But she wanted to meet her responsibilities and show her son what that truly meant.

Sometimes, the Wildcat parental lesson centers on relaxing amid the super-hyped pressures of Kentucky's NBA breeding ground.

With Andrew Harrison — the twin who bears the point guard responsibilities at Kentucky, one that comes with being compared (and in Andrew's case being found lacking) to established NBA superstars like Derrick Rose and John Wall who manned the point for Calipari in the past — locked in a midseason funk, his dad visited.

Aaron Harrison Sr. demanded that his son stop thinking of making the Kentucky expected "one and done" jump to the NBA after his freshman season. Harrison Sr. reminded Andrew that he owns a car dealership in the Houston area, and that the family is hardly in dire need of NBA paychecks.

Enjoy this team today, Andrew Harrison's father demanded. "He's not like some of those sports dads always screaming and pushing you if you're not playing great," Andrew Harrison says.

Kentucky's NCAA tournament rebirth
Suddenly, both Harrison twins started playing great in March. Andrew dramatically raised his assist average, becoming a much more effective point guard if still not a perfect one. Aaron Harrison started hitting almost everything, shooting an incredible 50 percent from 3-point range (22 of 44) in the four NCAA tournament wins that brought the Texas trio back to Jerry World. Randle kept up his relentless rim attacks.

Kentucky looks like Kentucky again. This still isn't your typical Kentucky team though. It's one powered by a Lone Star State vibe, one reinforced by uncompromising parents who are interested in much more than what spot their son is going to go in the NBA draft. Is it any wonder that Calipari — who felt Randle and the Harrison twins handled Kentucky's earlier regular season trip to Arlington to play Baylor horribly, acting like they were coming home to party — found everyone in early on Thursday night?

"It was so fun for me to come back at 10:30 at night, 11 o'clock at night, and they are all in the game room [set up at Kentucky's hotel] going crazy," the coach says. "Playing video games, doing the card game with the spoons. You ever play spoons?"

Calipari shoots a grin at the assembled media in all the white chairs of the mammoth press conference room. It turns out it's okay to root for this Kentucky team. They'll represent Texas well. There's no evil to see here. Really.