For those who know Aaron and Andrew Harrison best, telling the 18-year-old twins apart is simply a matter of attention to detail. Look past the similarities in height (6'5" to 6'6") and weight (210 pounds, give or take), ignore the mild-mannered demeanors and sly smiles, forget their shared taste in movies ("Law Abiding Citizen, Contraband," Andrew says, while Aaron nods) and music ("Any kind of rap," says Aaron, while Andrew smiles), and the differences will become clear. For their mother, Marian, it's in the slope of their foreheads. For coach Craig Brownson at Travis High in Richmond, Texas, it's in the shape of their faces. For former NBA coach John Lucas—who has worked with the twins in Houston for the last five years—it's.... O.K., maybe it is tough to tell them apart. "I've got to train them the same," says Lucas, "because I can't tell which one is which."
This is an article from the April 15, 2013 issue
Watch them play though, and their individual talents stand out. Aaron is the scorer, the country's top-ranked shooting guard by Rivals.com, with NBA size and a seamless stroke. As a senior, he averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 steals and was named a McDonald's All-American. Andrew, younger by one minute, is the playmaker, also ranked No. 1 at his position. He picked up an All-American nod too, after averaging 14.1 points and 5.1 assists last season while dealing with a hamstring injury. At the McDonald's game in Chicago last week, the Harrisons didn't dominate statistically (16 points, nine assists between them), but they hardly went unnoticed. "They are really, really tough guards," said Aaron Gordon, the game's MVP. "When it comes down to crunch time, you really want them on your side."
At age four the twins started playing at Southwest Community Christian Center in Richmond, where their coach was Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy. By second grade they'd moved on to the Richmond YMCA, where they had to play on a sixth-grade team to find worthy competition for their two-pronged attack. As they progressed, they were paired up in AAU leagues and throughout high school, one year at Strake Jesuit College Prep and the last three at Travis. They were occasionally split up in practices, though coaches did so at their peril. Brownson ran a drill called identity defense, a five-on-five set that he poached during a visit to Butler, where the first side to get seven stops wins. "I put them on opposite teams for that," says Brownson. "Let's just say it went way over the budgeted time."
Lucas once suggested they face off in a scrimmage. Fine, Aaron told him, but you are going to start a skirmish. Sure enough, a few minutes into the game the twins were going at it. "They are killers," says Lucas. "Their competitiveness is unbelievable."
They will be together again next season, playing for coach John Calipari, at Kentucky, where they will headline an absurd freshman class (page 48). The 2012--13 season was a disaster for the Wildcats; the defending NCAA champions lost 12 games, missed the tournament and were eliminated in the first round of the NIT. Meanwhile, the twins led Travis to a Class 5A state title; they will be expected to do something similar in Lexington. "On paper, we are the best recruiting class ever," says Aaron. "Now we have to go out there and prove it."
Some nights Aaron Harrison Sr. would stare at the ceiling and wonder when the voices would stop. He and Marian bought a spacious, three-floor, six-bedroom house in Richmond in 2001 partly because of the revolving door of friends, family members and foster children who came to stay with them, partly because they wanted to give each twin his own room. But Aaron and Andrew had no interest in separate accommodations. When they hit a growth spurt at 12 and their bedroom wasn't big enough for two king-sized beds, they retreated to different rooms and yelled to each other across the hall. As he tried to sleep, Harrison Sr. had to tune out the sounds of brotherly chatter and trash talk above him. "It was 'You stunk up the gym today'," says the father. "Or 'I'm going to dominate you tomorrow.' For them, it was like having a sleepover with your best friend your whole life." They lasted three months before moving into the game room.
The twins learned the game from their 6'3" father, a manager of a car dealership and a regular on the Houston rec league scene. They joined the AAU circuit when they were seven. It was stiffer competition than the Y, and in a league that included eight-year-olds, they played only two minutes per game. When they complained, Harrison Sr. told them that if they wanted to get on the court, they had to work. So they did, going at it every day on a hoop in the driveway. Games were intense, and Harrison Sr. became the unofficial referee. On a questionable call the twins would storm into the house and ask for a ruling. When Dad wasn't home, they would track him down. "I'd be sitting in meetings, and my phone would ring," says Harrison Sr. "It would be Andrew or Aaron asking me about a traveling call."
By the time the next season started, the boys' games had grown. In the first practice Andrew pulled down a rebound, dribbled up the court and scored. The coach blew the whistle and chastised him for not giving the ball to a guard. Upset, Harrison Sr. approached the coach after practice. "My question was, These kids are eight and nine years old, who is a guard?" says Harrison. "Kids can get messed up when you treat them like that." Harrison moved his sons to a different team and took on the role of assistant coach.
Coach Harrison knew which buttons to push. To combat complacency, before every game Harrison would tell his kids that the guys they were going up against were much better. "It would be, This guy is going to kill you, or You can't check this one," says Andrew. Before the All-American game last week, Harrison told the twins that Dallas's Keith Frazier—who suited up for the opposite team—was the best guard in Texas. "Most of the time they ignore me now," says Harrison. "But for a while I could really get them going."
Over the course of two seasons Andrew, the better ballhandler, became the point guard while Aaron settled in alongside him. Grambling offered them scholarships when they were in fifth grade; Baylor held out until they were skilled 6'2" seventh-graders.
Like most kids, the twins dabbled in other sports. They excelled at football, Andrew at running back and Aaron at quarterback. As an eighth-grader Aaron was courted by Texas, and when they went to high school both brothers signed up to play football. But when the coach told Andrew he didn't want to use him at running back—"said he was too tall," explains Harrison Sr.—Andrew quit. Aaron did too.
By then they had already started working with Lucas, the former Spurs and Cavaliers coach, traveling to his camps and training with him in the summer. Lucas's sessions are loaded with NBA players—J.R. Smith, Eric Maynor, DeAndre Jordan, among others—but Lucas could immediately see potential in this pair of lanky teenagers. "I've let only four high schoolers consistently work out with the pros: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Aaron and Andrew," says Lucas. "Their father, he did a great job with them. They are relentless, and they have a great understanding of the game."
With Lucas, the Harrisons polished their technique. "They both twisted a lot when they shot the ball," says Lucas. "We worked on keeping the feet straight, being able to pull up, learning how to cut people off and using their bodies. With their size, they have to be violent offensive players. They have to use their shoulders, use the physical gifts they have."
The twins' swagger was immediately evident. "They would see J.R. or Eric out there, and they would say, I want some of that," says Lucas. On a 2010 trip to Kentucky, the Harrisons spotted Wildcats freshman and future Pistons guard Brandon Knight working out. A Kentucky coach told the brothers that if they worked hard, they could be like Knight. Unmoved, Andrew insisted: I could lock him down right now. The coach asked Aaron if he felt the same way. Oh, yeah, Aaron said, Brandon Knight can't check me. "No matter who I play with, I feel like I'm the best," says Aaron. "That's how you have to play."
Many top prospects enroll at high-powered prep schools like Oak Hill Academy in Virginia or Findlay Prep in Nevada, and both were options for the Harrisons. Playing at Travis meant playing out of position on defense: As seniors the twins were the biggest players on the roster, so Aaron jumped center and both brothers defended opponents four or five inches taller. But transferring meant moving far from their family. It meant leaving behind teammates they had known since grade school. That wasn't going to happen. "We really just wanted to be teenagers and go to school with our friends," says Andrew. "We have plenty of time to go away and travel."
The Drivers Edge, the used-car dealership Harrison Sr. opened in 2008, sits on Katy Freeway in Houston. After stints as an Army medic and as an aviation boatswain in the Navy, he spent 20 years in automotive retail. He opened his own shop, he says, "because I got tired of watching other people make money" and because working for himself gave him more time to tend to the twins. The used-car business is a cliché for unsavory dealings, but it's nothing compared with college recruiting, which, Harrison told USA Today is "25 times worse."
The twins chose Kentucky largely because of Calipari, who was straight with them from the start. Harrison Sr. says, "He told Aaron and Andrew, 'I need guards to get it done. I want you, I need you, but Kentucky isn't for everybody. You come here, you are going to work.' " Calipari, according to Lucas, is the ideal teacher for the Harrisons. "They need a coach who isn't afraid of them," says Lucas. "They are scratching the surface of their talent, but it's going to take a strong coach to bring it out."
But Calipari may need the Harrisons more than they need him. Over the winter the twins watched as the dynasty they committed to crumbled. "There was no leadership on that team," says Aaron. "It looked like everyone had his own agenda." Next year the Harrisons and their fellow five-star recruits will join four returning starters: guard Ryan Harrow and forwards Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer. "That's as talented a young team as I have ever seen," says a Division I assistant coach. "If they come together like Cal thinks, it's game over. No one is going to be able to beat them."
Since Calipari arrived in 2009--10, Kentucky has had more one-and-done players (eight) than any other program, with two more (guard Archie Goodwin, who has already declared, and center Nerlens Noel, who is likely to) poised to join the list. A year from now the Harrisons could be done too. "You go to college to learn how to make money to earn a living," says Harrison Sr. "If [Aaron and Andrew] have an opportunity to do that in one year, why would I stop them? I sent them to Kentucky because I think it's the best system to play basketball. Let's not sugarcoat it and say they are going to be doctors. "
Doctors no, but they can heal the Wildcats. Sitting in a strip mall in suburban Houston, Aaron stressed that next season there will be only one acceptable result. "We're going down to win a national championship," says Aaron. "All of us who are going there, we talk about it; we know that's what we are going there to do. We know we will have a target on our backs. But we like that kind of pressure."
THE SICK SIX?
Kentucky will welcome a half dozen Top 20 recruits in 2013—maybe the best class ever. So who are the guys not named Harrison?
PF, Prestonwood Christian
The 6'9" McKinney, Texas, native was USA Basketball's leading scorer (14.2) and rebounder (6.6) at last summer's FIBA U18 championships.
G-F, Rochester High
Michigan's Class A player of the year averaged 27.2 points, 16.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 5.1 steals and led his team to its first regional title.
C, Montverde Academy
At 6'10" and 250 pounds, the Brooklyn native's muscular game will remind fans in Lexington of former Wildcats star DeMarcus Cousins.
PF, Deer Valley
Graceful and dynamic, the 6'9" 200-pounder from Antioch, Calif., has been compared with Derrick Williams—but he needs to get stronger.