As Auburn’s men’s basketball season went down in flames last winter, KT Harrell could barely watch.
NCAA rules forced the 6-foot-4 transfer guard from Virginia to stay home when the Tigers were on the road. When Harrell could witness his new team play in person, the constant losing was unbearable. Harrell was like most Auburn fans, struggling to digest the nightmarish 9-23 season that included 16 losses in the Tigers’ final 17 games.
What made Harrell different was knowing he could help, if only he were given the chance.
“It was tough watching the guys play, and not being able to be out there,” said Harrell, the 2010 Gatorade Alabama Boys Basketball Player of the Year after averaging 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game at Brewbaker Tech Magnet in Montgomery.
Harrell used the time away from competition as “a good year of getting better individually.”
Never far from his team for long, Harrell practiced and got to know his teammates off the court.
Senior forward Allen Payne said Harrell is one of Auburn’s leaders, a role not always given to an underclassman. Auburn may not have a more competitive player, either. In the locker room, Harrell’s intensity has already become legendary.
“He is extremely competitive,” Payne said. “We sometimes have to pull him off the ping pong table in the locker room, because he’ll break paddles and stuff like that. He’s just a fighter, and he’s a scrapper. He’s always been like that, from what I’ve known. I think that’s the biggest thing. He’ll bring competitiveness, and obviously physical talent.”
Payne said Harrell’s work ethic gave him instant credibility among teammates. Payne compared Harrell to departed guard Frankie Sullivan, who led Auburn with 14.5 points per game as a senior.
It’s not an uncommon comparison. Harrell said he’s talked with head coach Tony Barbee about the need to accept much of the scoring load Sullivan’s absence leaves.
Harrell averaged 4.7 points per game as a sophomore at Virginia in 2011-12, down from 8 points per game during his freshman year.
In the SEC, Barbee believes Harrell has the chance to be a dynamic guard. He also fits the mold Barbee is looking for in a player.
“As skilled as he is, I think his most important skill is how steady he is,” Barbee said. “He’s never on a roller coaster. You know what you’re getting from KT every single day — his absolute best. You can never tell if KT’s having a good day or bad day, because when he comes in (the gym) he comes in here to work and get better. He leads by example, although he’s a vocal leader. He’s an ultimate competitor, hates losing — very similar to me.
“On top of it, he’s a talented offensive player, too. So he’s a guy we’re going to be counting on for a lot of scoring production this year.”
Finally able to compete, Harrell said he’s looking forward to helping Auburn erase the bad memories of last season.
Harrell said he hasn’t noticed a hangover from the winter. The bitter taste remains, but only to serve as motivation.
“I don’t think guys look back at it like, hold their heads down, be ashamed or anything like that,” Harrell said. “I think they look back at it — we all look back at it — and say we’re going to improve, we’re going to be a better team.”
Ryan Wood is the Auburn University Sports Beat Writer for the Opelika-Auburn News.