Connecticut beat Kentucky, but in a way, Texas won.
In one of the most unexpected NCAA Division I national championship games in recent history, the seventh-seeded Huskies beat the Wildcats – an eighth seed – 60-54 on Monday to reclaim their spot as one of the sport’s elite.
While UConn does not have a single Texan on its roster, Kentucky sports three freshmen from the Lone Star State, and boy did they make an impression on the national viewing audience during March Madness.
Dallas native Julius Randle and twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison, of Richmond, burst onto the scene, combining to average 39.6 points, 16.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game with each producing a double-digit scoring average. Considering they are freshmen, the numbers are rather staggering.
Their production dipped a bit in the title game, which probably should be expected considering their lack of experience, but their impact off the court did not suffer in the least, especially to those who are in the know.
“That was a great game for Texas basketball,” Copperas Cove boys basketball head coach Billy White Jr. said. “There were three starters in the game from Texas. A year ago, those guys were playing high school basketball in Texas with the twins playing on the state championship team.
“That is great for Texas basketball and great for our kids to see. Hopefully, more and more people will start to understand that even though Texas is great in football and known for football, we do have great basketball players in this state as well.”
Nobody made that point more evident than Aaron Harrison.
The 6-foot-6 guard made clutch 3-pointers in the final moments of Kentucky’s Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final Four games to catapult the Wildcats into the national title game as one of the biggest Cinderella stories in tournament history.
In 2013, both he and his brother were making similar big plays for Fort Bend Travis, helping the Tigers go 31-5 en route to the program’s second consecutive state final appearance. After losing to Lewisville Marcus 56-52 in 2012, the Harrison brothers earned the team’s first state championship with a 46-38 victory against South Grand Prairie, landing on the 2013 Class 5A All-Tournament Team in the process.
Despite all their accomplishments during high school, their ability to thrive at such a young age against the next level of competition stunned Lometa boys basketball head coach Aaron Nuckles, who witnessed them win the state championship firsthand last year.
“They grew up a lot,” he said. “They are turning into real basketball players. Even last year at the tournament, I watched them play, and I thought, ‘These guys aren’t going to be able to make it at a program like Kentucky.’ They had the athletic ability, but they just didn’t have that instinct. Even at the tournament, they didn’t have that look of true, upper-caliber, Division I athletes, but they have matured since then. They are impressive.”
Perhaps the Harrison twins and Randle are too impressive, though. There is a good chance one, if not all, of the freshmen make the leap to the NBA. Randle is predicted to be a lottery pick if he decides to go pro, while both Harrison brothers could be first-round selections.
For whatever it is worth, I think they will leave Kentucky in the coming months for the glitz, glory and, most importantly, money that comes along with being an NBA player. And nobody could blame them.
Unless they returned and won it all next season, the trio is not going to get any hotter than they are right now. Their postseason run was something for the history books and their individual performances were the stuff of legend.
In fact, in a time before the Internet, social media and television made every piece of information on the globe instantly accessible, many simply would not believe some of the things these freshmen did on the court.
But it all happened, and regardless of whether one, some or all leave Kentucky during the offseason, they each gave Texans a reason to cheer for Kentucky. Even in defeat.
Contact Clay Whittington at firstname.lastname@example.org