ATLANTA -- There was no Great Santini Moment in the Harrow household, no propaganda from Mark Harrow, the dad, that he had to maul the son on the driveway rim to teach him courage and basketball toughness.
“My dad let me win all the time when I was little,” Ryan Harrow said.
The sinister and cynical might shout, “See, that’s why Harrrow didn’t last at Kentucky.”
The more human approach is to say, “No wonder Ryan wanted to move home closer to his dad.”
Those patronizing basketball games between father Mark and son Ryan—not to mention the Codfish breakfasts dad used to cook—created a bond, and that’s why Harrow said he transferred last spring from Kentucky to Georgia State. His dad suffered a stroke in June 2012 and there was no family in the Atlanta area for Mark to lean on. Ryan Harrow insists he was not run off by Kentucky coach John Calipari, and he did not leave to escape the cauldron of pressure around UK basketball, or the high school All-Americans joining the roster to take his minutes.
He left on his own. If you don’t believe him, too bad. The page has turned.
Harrow thought about his dad often during the 2012-13 basketball season when he was the starting point guard for the Wildcats. Mark Harrow was having trouble with the left side of his body following the stroke and he had to give up his job at the airport as a baggage handler. Ryan struggled with that daily. He had just gotten to Kentucky. He couldn’t leave another program so soon.
Harrow’s mother and sister had moved to North Carolina and there was no family in Atlanta for his father. Mark came to some games at Kentucky, but not as many as they planned when Harrow transferred to UK from North Carolina State.
So Harrow requested his release from UK and asked Georgia State coach Ron Hunter if he could join his program.
Forever, people will think Harrow left Kentucky because he couldn’t cut it. He just shrugs them off.
“My dad didn’t ask me to come home, he would have wanted me to stay, but there was no one here to uplift him and help him out,” Harrow said. “I wouldn’t be worried about him anymore if I was here and he could come see me play.
“The stroke thing was scary for me. I was pretty young and it was my dad. To think I might lose my dad was scary. I didn’t know what a stroke meant. I jumped on the airplane and went to see him as soon as I found out. He was sad because he couldn’t do for himself.”
Harrow went to Walton High in Cobb County because his mother worked in the district, but he still hung with his dad in Lithia Springs while he was in high school. They became close. His father would cook Jamaican meals and they would watch games together on TV. Harrow grew into a high school All-American and his dad was by his side all along the way.
“I see him three times a week now,” Harrow said. “We go get food together and he has been to every game. I knew he would happy to come see me play; he’s just 10 minutes away now.”
Harrow, a 6-foot-1 junior, was the Georgia 5A Player of the Year, once ranked the No. 19 player nationally. Now he is in the backcourt at Georgia State with senior Devonte White and sophomore R.J. Hunter as the Panthers fight for some traction in the Sun Belt Conference.
His second game in his new program was the best game of his career. Harrow scored 27 points and had one turnover in 38 minutes against Vanderbilt in an 86-80 loss. Talk about slaying a ghost. Harrow’s worst moment at Kentucky was against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament last March when he missed 13 of 15 shots in a 64-48 loss, which eliminated the Wildcats from consideration for the NCAA Tournament.
Harrow took friendly fire at Kentucky throughout the season, but the heckling was at its worst following the loss to Vanderbilt. The snipers were in the barber shops, in the stands, responding to blogs, and they were in his own locker room. Following the loss to Vanderbilt, Calipari singled out Harrow, not by name, but by deed.
“We laid an egg," Calipari said. "We had one guy go two-for-15…miss 12 layups."
Calipari forgot to mention the part about UK being a selfish team, a disjointed team, a team with agendas and cliques. Kentucky did not make the NCAA Tournament, but it had more to do with the injury to center Nerlens Noel than Harrow’s play. When UK was bounced out of the first round of the NIT by Robert Morris, the scapegoats were lined up. Calipari took some blame during the season when he said he wasn’t doing a very good job coaching his team. Harrow, of course, took much of the blame because he was the point guard.
“He was in a fishbowl, especially at that position,” Hunter said. “I figured if he had played any other position at Kentucky he would have been OK. That position was creating NBA All-Stars. The pressure got to be too much.
“He has come back home, he has relaxed a little bit more. He has the same responsibilities that go with being a great player, but it is a different type of pressure, and so he can come in here and do what he wants to do which is to enjoy the game.”
Harrow did take a lot of flak. Now he just shrugs at it. His uniform is the same shade of blue this season as last. He is playing for the Cats again—Panthers not Wildcats—but things are different. He felt the difference during the summer when he started working out with his new teammates.
“I didn’t know what to expect at first, but all the guys welcomed me in right away,” Harrow said. “We were hanging out every day like I had been on the team four years. I’ve never really been on a team like this where everybody likes everybody and we all have the same common goal and nobody is worried about what’s next after this. They are just worried about the now.”
Hunter has a picture of Harrow sitting on the Kentucky bench following the SEC Tournament loss to Vanderbilt.
The Georgia State coach said it is a distressing picture of a player who had lost his way in the game. Harrow was thrust into the same debilitating situation on Nov. 19 at Alabama, Georgia State’s fourth game of the season. He was dominated by the Crimson Tide’s Retin Obasohan and made just 2 of 11 shots in a 17-point loss. Pressure had eroded Harrow’s confidence, just like at Kentucky.
“Sometimes he wants to do so well that he goes back to what he used to be and he doesn’t relax,” Hunter said. “I thought that happened for the first time against Alabama. Before the game he wasn’t smiling. He had a look on his face that wasn’t the Ryan Harrow face. When he woke up that morning it looked like he had the pressure of the world on him.
“There is a picture I show him of him sitting on the bench where it looks like he is going to cry. I told him ‘I never want to see this guy again.’”