John Calipari loves the improvement he sees in Ryan Harrow these days.
The Kentucky point guard has averaged 16.8 points and 4.3 assists over the last four games and has turned what appeared to be a weakness early in the season into perhaps a position of strength as the Wildcats enter Southeastern Conference play Thursday night at Vanderbilt.
Now the challenge is squeezing even more production out of the sophomore from Marietta, Ga.
"Why not try to be the best point guard in the country?" Calipari said during Monday's SEC coaches teleconference. "Why not? Why would you not chase that? Why do anything short of that?"
The former five-star prospect looked every bit of that in last week's 90-38 win over Eastern Michigan. Harrow scored 15 points, went 4-for-5 from beyond the 3-point arc, dished out eight assists and recorded four steals on the defensive end of the floor. He now has 31 assists on the season and only nine turnovers in 214 minutes of action. That's less than one turnover per half at the most demanding position in Calipari's system.
Can Harrow, who missed four games earlier this season due to personal issues and illness and once appeared to be headed out of the program, actually become the best point guard in America? Can he put his name among the elite, alongside players like Michigan's Trey Burke, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Michael Carter-Williams at Syracuse and Phil Pressey at Missouri?
A realistic goal now, the UK boss says, since Harrow has changed both his practice habits and the way he's bonded with his teammates.
"The team trusts him more now," Calipari said. "He's spending a lot more time around his teammates. In practice, he's one of our hardest workers now. He's got a great attitude.
"When we're doing individual workouts… he and Archie (Goodwin) do theirs before practice. I grab those two and we go out for 20 minutes prior to practice. Well, he stays in the gym in the mornings and cheers on the guys. Just talks to them and encourages them. He's become the guy that we needed him to be."
Calipari has spent a lot of time talking about effort this season, but most of those concerns were in regard to on-court effort. In Harrow's case, a great deal of it had nothing to do with the squeak of high tops on the hardwood floor.
Harrow, who sat out last season as a transfer on UK's national championship squad, saw many of his teammates move on to the NBA before he ever got a chance to play a game for the Wildcats. They were replaced by another No. 1 Calipari recruiting class, but Harrow was a little slow to bond with all the new faces.
"You've got to be around the team," Calipari said. "You've got to be around them. You've got to be with them. They've got to know you're for them, and then, they'll follow. Then you can lead. Leading isn't just walking on the court and barking orders. Leadership is about service, and the only way you can serve others is be around them. That's what he's done, and I'm really proud of him and how far he's come.
"Now we've got to build on this. Where do we go from here? He had a great practice (on Sunday). The way he's playing right now – assist-to-turnover ratio, shooting percentage – all the stuff that we need him to do and on top of that defending well… all things that guy has to do to lead, he's doing."