Late in the fourth quarter of the last game of the Marshall County Hoop Fest, fans finally got what they came for. Andrew Wiggins shook off a lackluster game with a rim-rattling dunk that brought over 6,000 fans to their feet. Reed Conder Gymnasium rung with a chorus of appreciative “ooooooh”s as the Big Blue Nation smiled at one another and the star on the court that may soon be theirs.
Shortly after, Wiggins came out of the game to a standing ovation, finishing with 25 points and nine rebounds. It wasn’t his best game; he seemed tired from the previous night’s 29 point, 17 rebound, five assist and five steal spectacle, but in the second half, he came alive, scoring 20 points, including three three-pointers, evidence of the shooting touch that had been missing the night before.
Having never seen Wiggins play in person before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Many have called Wiggins the most talented high school player since LeBron; honestly, after one half, I didn’t buy it. The number one prospect in the nation was sluggish and didn’t seem to be putting much effort in against a vastly inferior Briarcrest Christian team; however, Wiggins turned off the cruise control in the second half, scoring 11 points in four minutes. His play wasn’t all flash. The 6’7″ small forward wasn’t afraid to drive the post, even if it meant being body checked by a bigger Briarcrest player for an “and one.” After a few threes, the crowd broke into the first “Go Big Blue” chant of the night, drawing a smile from Wiggins, who threw down his monster dunk moments later. Coincidence? I think not.
Predictably, Wiggins won his second MVP honor of the festival, and was given the award by former UK great Derek Anderson. Fans immediately mobbed him, cornering him into the stands to sign autographs, take pictures, or just be in his presence. Wiggins obliged, staying on the court until every fan got what they wanted (except for a verbal for the Cats).
Wiggins agreed to answer a few questions, the most important being about his potential future teammates, the Harrison Twins:
“They’re great, I can see myself playing with them in the future. They love to pass, they love to score, and if they score, it takes pressure off me to score.”
One of the big questions surrounding Wiggins’ recruitment is whether or not he is willing to join UK’s star-packed 2013 class. His comments about the Harrison Twins are an encouraging sign in what has been a hard to read process. He’ll have another chance to play in front of the Big Blue Nation at the Boyd County Shootout on December 14th and 15th. Get your chants ready.
It wasn’t just the Andrew Wiggins Show in Benton. The Harrison Twins brought their own share of stardom, with Kentucky fans eager for a glimpse of what’s in store for next season. On Friday night, the Harrisons got their first taste of what it might be like to play as a Wildcat when they faced off against Louisville Ballard’s Quentin Snider, who is committed to the Cards. Louisville and Kentucky fans squared off behind their new players, who even engaged in a little smack talk. The Twins stepped up to the challenge, with Aaron winning MVP honors with a 28-point, five rebound and four steal performance. Andrew chipped in 19 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Aaron said that he wanted to give Kentucky fans a good show, and he did.
Andrew took his turn in the spotlight on Saturday, putting up 25 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and a steal. Aaron was sidelined with foul trouble for most of the game, scoring only three points. Andrew showed off a silky smooth jump shot that was a welcome relief from UK’s shooting woes earlier in the day against Baylor. The talented point guard’s confidence and brilliant no-look passes made just about everyone in the building wish he and his brother were joining the team tomorrow, not next season. Both he and his brother showed a lot of passion on the court, at times arguing calls (some of which need to be argued) and getting their teammates into position. Some may argue that the twins showed attitude, but I saw it as frustration with foul trouble and a competitive spirit, the latter of which we now know better than to criticize.
The most encouraging part of the festival was watching the Twins play together. It’s clear that Cal’s teams function best when led by two talented ball handlers, and the Twins work together seamlessly. The number one reason Kentucky fans should be drooling over them? They’ve been doing this since birth. Next season, two-fifths of the starting lineup will already be in sync, a rarity for an incoming Calipari team. The only thing I’m worried about? Telling them apart. Seriously. Even the scorers at the Fest got the two confused at times on Friday night. A little facial hair might help, just saying.
I asked the Twins’ father, Aaron Harrison, Sr., how his sons were handling the rock-star treatment at the Fest. Harrison Sr., sporting a Kentucky hat, said the Twins were enjoying it: “They’ve enjoyed playing in front of the UK fans, it will help them get ready for next season. We already get groups of fans, maybe 20-40, swarming them at the mall at home.” As for their performance during the game, Harrison Sr. said they both played better the night before, but that’s because teams are better prepared for them now: “The teams bring their best games against them now. … It’s their Superbowl.” Sound familiar?
After their game, twin fever took over, with a line for autographs 300-deep wrapping around the school lobby. Like pros, the Twins stuck around to sign and take pictures. While I was taking a break in the cafeteria (nacho bar!), they came in with their team and the older lady running the desk jumped up, passed her camera to a coworker and grabbed the Twins’ hands for a picture. The Twins laughed and smiled for the picture before grabbing some grub and a moment of peace and quiet. Don’t think for a second that the Twins’ teammates don’t appreciate this: one had a “Twinning” tee under his warm-ups and even Harrison Sr., who many thought wanted his kids to go to Maryland instead, snapped a picture of a UK fan’s “Twinsanity” t-shirt.
Aaron tweeted about the trip this morning:
Definitely had the best time in Kentucky this weekend ðŸ‘ŒðŸ€ðŸ€
– Aaron Harrison (@AaronICE2) December 2, 2012
2014 UK target Cliff Alexander had a big game on Friday, putting up 26 points and 13 rebounds. Alexander’s team was vastly inferior to perennial powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, but the five-star power forward was able to control the post with ease. Alexander said he heard from the Kentucky staff on Friday and Louisville assistants watched him in person. Kentucky and Michigan State are considered to be his favorites. Also on UK’s radar: Huntington Prep’s Montaque Gill-Caesar, the 18th ranked player in the 2015 class. Wiggins’ teammate looked impressive in Huntington’s win over Briarcreast on Saturday, with 15 points and five rebounds. Keep an eye on him over the next year.
The Fest had its lighter moments, too. During the Huntington Prep/Briarcrest Christian game, little 5’8″ Mark French came in for Briarcrest. At 5’3″ (and three quarters), I have serious sympathy for shorties, as did the crowd, who roared when French got a rebound. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about him when he was near big Dominic Woodson, the 6’9″ 300 lbs. center committed to Baylor. (And they say I’m not maternal.)
Finally, major props to Marshall County High School, who put on one hell of a show. I’ll admit, I haven’t been to a high school game since my senior year at DHS, so this was quite a shock. Not only was the facility amazing (if a high school can get a scoreboard suspended from the ceiling, so can we, Kentucky. It’s time for Big Bertha to retire), but everyone involved was wonderful. Nothing says sporting events like awesome junk food and here are just a few of the items available: standard fare, such as hot dogs/burgers/popcorn; ribeye sandwiches; waffle cones made on the spot; designer cupcakes; and of course, the BBQ nachos (big thanks to the Marshall County Dugout Club for those, BTW).
Not many things can cheer Kentucky fans up after a big loss. But, in a gymnasium in the middle of Marshall County, fans found hope in a set of Twins whose love for the Big Blue Nation is only eclipsed by their talent, and one star who may soon be on the way.