Sibling bond sustains Kentucky's Harrison twins through peaks and valleys

Kevin C. Cox

As Kentucky gets set to meet UConn for the national championship, the relationship between the brothers who make up the Wildcats' starting backcourt is as strong as ever.

SB Nation 2014 NCAA March Madness Coverage

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's not unusual for siblings to be misunderstood. Part of the deal that comes with sharing an innate bond like that is a proprietary language strangers nor scholars would ever understand. Take Andrew Harrison's loving support of his brother Aaron. The two Kentucky guards have been through a lot this season on the way to Monday's national championship game, and Andrew passed to Aaron for the shot that beat Wisconsin in the national semifinal to put the Wildcats where they are.

It's clear Andrew dishes, looks at his brother and says, Go, go! On cue, Aaron shoots from about 25 feet out and seven or eight seconds on the clock. It's a loving moment in the national spotlight that siblings rarely get to share, and as if Aaron Harrison needed lifting up after his winners against Louisville and Michigan, there was his identical twin brother and best friend to be the one to do it. The Internet lit up, because the Internet will light up in moments of perceived human decency such as this. Andrew Harrison Told His Brother To Take The Final Shot. You Won't Believe What Happens Next.

As is often the case with click bait, that's not really what happened.

"I was like, 'Is he crazy? Go!' I was trying to tell him to attack the basket," Andrew said.

NCAA National Championship

Andrew seemed to address it rationally: With nine seconds on the clock, his brother could drive to the basket and put something up on the rim so the Wildcats' elite offensive rebounders could have a better chance of helping. Aaron wanted to win right then, and he had a little bit of a window. Why not shoot?

They didn't get in a quarrel about it, as many on Kentucky's roster say they do from time to time over the most menial topics only brothers born minutes apart and separated by little else since could pick apart, because the end result was so instant and rewarding. Not everyone gets to share moments like that with their siblings, and it's safe to say not every moment is as instantly rewarding.

"They're always screaming and yelling at each other, but they trust each other to know that they're right when they're screaming and yelling at each other," Marcus Lee said.

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Marcus Lee talks about his brother all the time. It comes up in interviews because Lee mentioned in one of his first media sessions upon arriving to Lexington that his brother Brian works for Apple. Marcus said he's always trying to get his brother to leak him information about new products — Brian works in developing Siri, so he's got information were he wont to share it — but Brian can't talk, so he doesn't, no matter how much button-pushing Marcus tries. His mom tells him all the time how much he and Brian talk alike despite their age difference. Marcus has two other older brothers: Marcus is 19, Brian is 28, and Chris and Robert are 30.

Being the baby of the family, Marcus said he turned out with distinct traits from each. He talks like one brother, gets his sense of humor from one and his artistic sense from another. They always looked out for him growing up, he said, because that's what brothers do. They also always beat him up, he said. Such is life.

Marcus Lee said he sees a little bit of that constant struggle between affection and contention that he experienced back home in the Bay Area when he looks at Aaron and Andrew Harrison, but with those two, everything is amplified. Both are among the best basketball players in the world for their age, and they've never really played apart from each other. The hyper-focus on their inseparability heightened exponentially upon their arrival to Kentucky. Expectations for their freshman season were impossible to meet, and the two were never mentioned in separate sentences. Fans, for some reason, thought a group of mostly freshmen could go undefeated, and the Harrisons were going to be the most important two pieces to the puzzle because not only were they top-rated guards coming to play for the coach perceived to be the best in the country at making quick work of morphing top-rated guards into top guards, but they were identical twins.

If looking for anyone to blame for the Kentucky fan base's excessive expectations this season, only now met on the precipice of the national championship, perhaps look to Ronell Taylor and Donell Taylor. The identical twins were guards on the 2004 UAB Blazers, and those Blazers upset No. 1 seed Kentucky in the round of 32. The Taylors produced one of the most infamous highlights in recent Wildcats memory, instantly billed as something only twins could do.

Only identical twins could make that kind of connection, and as the logic went, all twins had that kind of connection. The Harrisons must have, and nobody would be able to stop it. Instead, 30 games into Kentucky's season, Aaron was shooting threes at 29 percent, and Andrew was the point guard in charge of a stagnant offense that looked indifferent toward its inevitable demise in the first weekend of the tournament. No perfect, blind, full-court passes were thrown.

The weight of the season and its expectations started to crush the two. Their draft stock was falling, and Kentucky seemed helpless. They began to mirror each other in the way they shrugged and deflated after turnovers or fouls. So Aaron Harrison Sr. made the trip from Texas to Kentucky to spend a few days with his sons, according to Adam Himmelsbach of the Louisville Courier-Journal, and assured them the future would work itself out if they remained present. The two sons have a strong bond with their father, and floundering together was one thing. Letting down Dad wasn't an option to them.

The visit from their dad helped a lot, and so did some late-season magic John Calipari conjured of his team, but the two brothers' relationship never changed. They still laugh at jokes only they get, and they still bicker over things only they see as argument-worthy.

"They're the funniest dudes I've ever met from a brothers' standpoint," Willie Cauley-Stein said. He has five brothers and one sister himself, and he's closest to an older brother named Bryce.

"We used to fight like that, too, and now we're best friends," Cauley-Stein said. "You almost hate your older brother, because he's beating the heck out of you and never lets you do stuff with him, and then you get to that age — I was like 16 or 17, and I finally got to hang out with my older brother. That kind of stuff transitions."

If Willie and Bryce or Marcus and Brian, or freshman Dominique Hawkins and his 5-year-old sister whose image somehow enriched the smile of a Kentucky native hours away from playing in a title game for the Wildcats — if they don't get to be a direct actor in the other's greatest accomplishments, they manage like all siblings do.

If days or weeks go by, half an hour on the phone means everything, and somehow, about 90 seconds go into life recap and the rest of the time is spent telling jokes, talking about childhood pets and that obscure Late Night with Conan O'Brien character from damn near 20 years ago that nobody else at school thought was funny then, let alone remembered now. You work different hours — whether you're a basketball player and Apple developer, or you recall absurd comedy sketches between one's job as a college basketball writer and the other's as a musician, neither of which work particularly regular hours, and it doesn't take being her brother to know she's got the most powerful and heartfelt voice you've ever heard — and things get away sometimes. For close siblings, nothing makes adulthood less appealing than realizing all the time you spent together was taken for granted that whole time. That bond will always be there, but once the first goes to college or gets a job somewhere else, they belong to the rest of the world. You make do.

A loss to South Carolina on March 1 and a 19-point blowout at Florida a week later had Kentucky's fans ready to give up on the team, but the team itself never caved. At the soul of that team was a pair of brothers who, whether or not they have ever once thought about it, will only be together a little while longer. They've made the national championship game, and after that, they have a decision to make. If they come back to college, they'll have at least another year rooming together in Lexington and playing 40 basketball games a year together. But if they choose to enter the NBA Draft, the likelihood the same team selects both is not good. At some point, life will separate the inseparable. They'll never lose the language they have together, but it won't be the same. They'll make do the way siblings do: Time will get away, but even if they have different ideas how best to connect, it'll work out.

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