The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

July 9, 2013

Auburn relying heavily on Harrell for turnaround


Associated Press

— AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — KT Harrell takes losing so hard sometimes his Auburn teammates have to steer him away from a game.

And that's just friendly ping pong matches. The Tigers are hoping that drive and Harrell's offensive skills will help them rebound from a miserable basketball season, while he was sitting out after transferring from Virginia.

"He is extremely competitive," Auburn teammate Allen Payne said while Harrell warmed up nearby on the practice court Monday. "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 a fighter and he's a scrapper. He's always been like that, from what I know. I think that's the biggest thing. He'll bring competitiveness and obviously physical talent."

Both attributes appeared to be lacking from Auburn's 9-23 team that lost its last 10 games and 16 of 17.

The Tigers are hoping Harrell will also fill some of the scoring void left with the graduation of guard Frankie Sullivan, along with the offseason defections of Jordan Price and Brian Greene Jr.

Auburn will probably need a significant impact from Harrell to turn things around this season, but he said that burden won't be too heavy.

"The pressure's going to be there, but at the end of the day, it's a game," he said. "It's a game that I love. I think all the pressure goes away when you step on the floor. "

Harrell spent two seasons at Virginia and averaged 8.0 points as a freshman. His playing time was dipping significantly in December 2011 — including just 11 minutes in his final two games — before he announced plans to transfer two days before Christmas.

Now, Harrell is the latest transfer from a major conference team that Auburn coach Tony Barbee is turning to for help. He's had mixed results from Varez Ward (Texas) and Noel Johnson (Clemson).

Barbee likes the Montgomery native's demeanor.

"KT is a talented player," Barbee said. "His most important skills are how steady he is. You know what you're getting — his absolute best. You can never tell if KT is having a good day or bad day. He's a vocal leader. He's an ultimate competitor. On top of it, he's a talented offensive player, too."

Harrell could do little beyond practicing and offering encouraging words after losses last season.

Payne thinks the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Harrell is doing the right things so far — except, perhaps, for being too hard on ping pong paddles.

"He's probably the hardest working player that I've ever played with, ever," he said. "And I've played with Frankie for three years. He works hard in the weight room, works hard on the floor. He's doing stuff on his own, and it shows in practice. It shows in the pickup games that we've played. He'll definitely be a leader for us as far as numbers go, and he always does the right thing. He's always in the right spot off the floor. He's just a leader for us."

Harrell also thinks this team is already developing more chemistry than last year's group heading into a trip to the Bahamas for two exhibition games in early August.

"The chemistry wasn't there," Harrell said. "I think that played a big role in it. Everybody wasn't bought into it, but I think this year we've got a group of guys who are committed to winning. And we all get along with each other, the chemistry is there, and that's important. We've got a group of guys who are competitive. Everybody's competitive.

"I can't say everybody wasn't competitive (last season), but now we've got a group of guys that want to win. That's a big difference on this team."