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Snubbed in NBA draft, ex-Kentucky shooting star Aaron Harrison seeks spot with Hornets

Aaron Harrison works out after practice at the Novant Health Training Center inside Time Warner Cable Arena during the Charlotte Hornets' minicamp for their upcoming summer-league team on Wednesday, July 1, 2015.
Aaron Harrison works out after practice at the Novant Health Training Center inside Time Warner Cable Arena during the Charlotte Hornets' minicamp for their upcoming summer-league team on Wednesday, July 1, 2015. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Aaron Harrison, who led Kentucky in scoring last season, watched last week’s NBA draft from home. He saw teammates selected first, sixth, 12th and 13th. Andrew Harrison, his twin brother who is younger by a minute, was selected 44th. Big man Dakari Johnson was drafted 48th.

Harrison’s name was never called, and he felt like you’d think he would.

“Yeah, of course it hurt,” Harrison says Wednesday after his first practice with the Charlotte Hornets. “I mean, you just have to take the lumps. That’s part of being in the NBA. After the draft is over it’s not about the draft. It’s about summer league and making a team and playing well.”

Harrison, 6-foot-6 and a lean 209 pounds, is one of 14 players on Charlotte’s summer roster. At 20, he’s the youngest.

Kentucky lost to Connecticut for the NCAA championship in his first season and lost to Wisconsin last season in the Final Four. The star of that Wisconsin team, Frank Kaminsky, is a summer league teammate.

As a sophomore, Harrison averaged 11 points and led Kentucky with 59 3-pointers. What do you recall about Harrison? You recall that when the Wildcats had to have a basket they often looked for him.

Remember what he did during Kentucky’s NCAA tournament run two seasons ago? With four seconds remaining in an Elite Eight game against Michigan and the score tied, Harrison hit a tough, tough 3-pointer for the victory. With six seconds remaining in a Final Four game against Wisconsin, he hit a 3 and Kentucky won by a point.

“You can’t teach that,” says Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a former Kentucky star. “A coach can’t show you how to do it. You can’t learn it on the Internet.”

Kidd-Gilchrist, who was the second pick in the 2012 draft, talks about players who weren’t drafted but fashioned successful NBA careers. He met Harrison when he returned to campus, and he says Harrison works hard.

Maybe it’s what the Wildcats do. After practice Wednesday, Kidd-Gilchrist is on the court with new shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer. In the lane is a heavy bag, the kind boxers use, and Kidd-Gilchrist beats it with a slick spin move as he goes to the hoop.

Also staying late is Harrison, who shoots from distance and incrementally works his way toward the basket.

In Wednesday’s scrimmage, Harrison says he shared the backcourt with Ralston Turner (N.C. State), Justin Cobbs (California) and LaQuinton Ross (Ohio State).

“It went pretty well,” he says. “There was a lot of teaching. It was fun just to get out here with teammates on our first day. It was exciting.”

Harrison is accustomed to playing with teammates he doesn’t know. He auditioned for 12 teams. The toughest part of the auditions was flying from town to town in a middle seat.

You played for Kentucky. They didn’t fly you first class?

“No, no, no,” Harrison says with a laugh. “I definitely didn’t get first class.”

Other teams offered to bring him to summer league.

“But (the Hornets) just need shooting and I thought I could bring it to the table and also be a playmaker as well,” he says. “I feel like this was one of the better fits.”

The Wildcats were like socialists last season. Everybody contributed and nobody starred. Six players averaged between 6.4 and 10.3 points, and each was drafted. Harrison, the maker of clutch shots, was omitted.

“I will tell you that he will be on a summer-league team and fighting for a position,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Harrison on draft night. “My guess is he will be on an opening season roster.”

If Harrison was not the best player ignored in the draft, he might be the best guard. You can see him in the NBA. As the clock runs down, somebody has to take the shot that will win or lose the game. Why not him?         

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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