LEXINGTON - Doug Harrellson already knows what coming back to Rupp Arena on Tuesday night is going to be like for him and his family.
“It is going to be very emotional. I am going to be very emotional. I am going to be so proud and so happy for him,” he said.
That’s because his son, Kentucky center Josh Harrellson, will be playing his final home game that night and will be the only senior the Wildcats will be honor during the always-emotional pregame ceremony.
Josh Harrellson had six points, a game-high 12 rebounds and one assist in 34 minutes Saturday in a 76-68 win over Florida here that raised UK’s record to 20-8 overall and 8-6 in Southeastern Conference play.
“Josh had 12 rebounds. How about him?” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game. “He just went after every ball.”
That’s because the UK senior knew he had to do that.
“They beat us last time by getting offensive rebounds. We couldn’t let that happen again,” Josh Harrellson said after helping the Cats limit Florida to just one second-chance point compared to Kentucky’s 11.
Considering the roller-coaster ride his career has taken at Kentucky since being emotionally abused by then-coach Billy Gillispie two years ago and ignored by Calipari last year, it’s nothing short of miraculous what Harrellson has done this year. He’s averaging 6.6 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per game going into the home finale against Vanderbilt.
“I don’t know how I will react (Tuesday), but probably I will cry. I’m just being honest. I will have tears in my eyes,” Doug Harrellson said. “But I want to thank Kentucky and the great fans. They are just so wonderful, and the support they gave Josh is what kept him going.
“I cannot thank them enough for what they have done. They stood behind him. The people were on his side when Gillispie was doing the things he was doing. That’s why this night will be very emotional for me and our family.”
Remember how Gillispie made Harrellson, who was in his first season at Kentucky after transferring from Southwestern Illinois College, sit in a bathroom stall during halftime at Vanderbilt and then ride back to Lexington in the equipment van rather than traveling with the team because he was mad at him? And there were other instances Doug Harrellson doesn’t even want to discuss.
“I am so proud of that boy for what he has done. He has worked so hard,” Doug Harrellson said. “It was such a roller coaster going from Gillispie to Calipari. Not being able to play last year because of the Fab Five (UK’s five first-round draft picks). It is great to see him in the position he is now and he is excelling so much. He’s doing a phenomenal job.
“Gillispie did him wrong, but he pulled through. A lot of that was due to the support of Kentucky fans and all the people in Kentucky. Without the support of the Kentucky fans, I don’t know if he would be where he is today. Those fans truly are the best in the country.”
Those fans are going to be eternally grateful to Josh Harrellson because without him, UK would have been in serious trouble with Enes Kanter never being allowed to play. Harrellson went from a player that watched DeMarcus Cousins, Daniel Orton, Patrick Patterson and Perry Stevenson play last year to one of the leading rebounders in the SEC. He has given UK an inside scoring presence, a needed shot blocker, a solid defender and a player who has gladly deferred to high scoring teammates.
It would have surprised no one if he had left UK after the Gillispie debacle. Instead, he stayed. It would have surprised no one if he had left after being left sitting last year. Instead, he stayed.
“It was up to him to decide about staying just like it was to decide what to do when he was being recruited,” Doug Harrellson said. “We can give guidance, but he is the one that makes the decision he has to live with. He was very upset with Gillispie. We all were. He had thoughts of doing other things, but with the support of the UK fans he worked through it. He is what he is today because of that support.”
He’s shown he’s willing to give back, too. In the last two weeks, he’s made appearance at elementary schools in Mercer County and Danville, including an appearance Thursday only 10 hours after the team returned home from an overtime loss at Arkansas.
“The charity work and people he does things for is unbelievable,” Doug Harrellson said. “I don’t think he knows how to turn down anybody. He’ll go where he’s asked. That’s how kind-hearted he is.”
Josh Harrellson is just glad his family has been able to enjoy watching him play, especially when they have made the drive from Missouri to Rupp Arena like they did this weekend.
“I like seeing my family, but with basketball I do not get to see them much and it is a treat when they see you,” the UK senior said. “They always thought I could play like that. Parents always think that. But I don’t know if I could have done this if I had not got in the shape I am now. I have always had the talent, I just never had the work ethic.”
Harrellson was right. His father did think he could play this way.
“I thought if he got the opportunity ever, he could play,” Doug Harrellson said. “But given the opportunity, he has excelled beyond my beliefs in his play and work ethic. I thought he had good play in him, but not this much. It’s just phenomenal to see what he’s done. I am so happy for him.”
Yet like most parents, Doug Harrellson has cringed at times when Calipari has scolded his son in games or in public comments.
“His relationship with Cal is pretty good. I do believe sometimes coach Cal goes a little overboard on the yelling and screaming and thing, but he is the coach and knows what to do,” Doug Harrellson said. “I can judge him on the fact he does a very good job. I do believe he needs to give other players chances to play so they can build a bench. I wish he would insert some of those other players just like I wish he had played Josh last year. But his relationship with coach Cal is a good one.”
Now Doug Harrellson will turn his attention to trying to find a way to get his son former coaches on the court with the family for Tuesday’s pregame ceremony. “They are the ones who need the credit for believing in him all along,” Doug Harrellson said.
However, the fans are the ones the father wants to thank the most for what will happen Tuesday.
“There are not words to describe how good the people in Kentucky are. I am just so thankful for what they did for my son. I can never say enough good about them and they’ll probably never know how much that support meant to Josh or our family,” Doug Harrellson said.