When you commit to Kentucky, sacrifices are to be made. While most top-10 recruits are used to putting up 20 shots a night for their high school team, they more than likely won’t even get half of that throughout their first year in Lexington. Aaron Harrison was one of those guys.
A dynamic 6-6 shooting guard from Houston, Harrison came into Lexington with a big rep and even bigger expectations. He was a guy who could bomb from NBA range, overpower smaller guards, and lock down defensively. While the numbers that he put up (nearly 14 ppg as a freshman, 11 as a sophomore) were solid, most felt that Aaron would have the type of season that would propel him into the Lottery. However, the impact that he had for the Wildcats went far beyond the numbers.
The game-winners in the NCAA title game run his freshman season. The task of putting the clamps on the opposing team’s best perimeter player on a nightly basis in 2015. Being a threat to shoot from anywhere, opening up the lane for penetrators to drive. All of these things didn’t show up in the box score, but were ways in which he impacted the game under Coach Cal. After the squad’s 38-0 run this season was ended by Wisconsin, he decided that his best move was to take his skills to the League.
We got up with Aaron in Lexington amidst a ridiculous schedule that consisted of finishing out the semester, countless appearances, and plenty of autograph signings. Throughout all of the traveling, he and his brother Andrew still made it to get in the gym every single day to work with Chicago based trainer Jeff Pagliocca of Evolution Athletics. What we saw with Aaron went far beyond the numbers.
The first thing that immediately stood out upon walking in the gym was Aaron’s size. Even though he’s 6-6 (adequate for a two-guard), he has a 215-pound frame that is nowhere near done filling out. He’s got the type of frame that would give you fits when he bodies you up coming off of screens. Additionally, the aforementioned strength that he owns had no problem translating into the drills, where he consistently finished at the rack through an abundance of contact. Not just a brute force who comes through in the clutch, the 20-year old has a few aspects of his game that he’s going to surprise NBA executives with during the workout process.
“You see him as a catch and shoot guy who hits big shots, but you get him up close and you see that he’s there physically,” Pagliocca explained to us after their hour and a half session. “He can put the ball on the floor a little bit. His footwork is strong, he can handle creative stuff, and can learn technical things quickly.”
The ability to adapt his game to circumstances will be crucial for Harrison, who will not be putting up as many shots as he did from the jump in the league compared to at Kentucky. While his range is effortless and in the workout he was simply en feugo (shot over 70 percent from NBA three), he will need to continue upon the shot selection that plagued him at times throughout his college career. With Pagliocca, he showed that he is a bit better off of the bounce than people gave him credit for and is developing the ability to create space for his own shot.
Placing a strong emphasis on footwork and pivoting, Jeff showed his pupil a few of the tricks that worked with NBA clients Patrick Beverley and Luol Deng, both of whom have had successful careers despite not being freak athletes. Things like this will be crucial for Harrison to create scoring opportunities in tight spaces, and he’s making strides in the right direction.
Footwork and shooting aside, Aaron showed off his deceptive bounce with a number of effortless dunks. He tested out with a 38-inch vertical at Kentucky’s pro day back in the fall and looks like may have even added an inch or two. The Houston Defenders AAU alum’s combination of size, D, and ability to stroke it from NBA range will get him on a roster. Toss in some of the intangibles and you see why there is the potential for much more.
“I think that their attitude is great. They both won me over right away after the first day there. They’re ultra-competitive,” Pagliocca admitted. “They listen, they make eye contact, professionalism, and maturity. I saw good kids that were willing to learn. Aaron is eager to learn.”
As long as NBA personnel see what this trainer to the pros did, Aaron Harrison should see his stock shoot up before draft day rolls around.