ST. LOUIS — Their fathers have spent much of the last week telling the story, but on Thursday, it was their turn.
Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Kentucky’s twin freshmen guards, will meet up with a guy they consider to be a brother when they play Wesley Iwundu and Kansas State tonight.
Their relationship goes back to seventh grade when they began playing together, and it continued through AAU ball, where the three played together with the Houston Defenders.
But their friendship will be tested on the basketball court. And they’ve been there before.
Last season, Aaron Harrison beat Iwundu’s team with a buzzer-beater, ending Iwundu’s season. And while his team celebrated, Aaron went to lift his friend off the court.
“We are both competitors and going to try to play as hard as we can,” he said. “At the end of the day he is like family to me. I mean, we’re definitely going out to win the game. There’s nothing about that. We will still be friends after the game.”
From the moment their matchup was announced last Sunday, all three players, including Stanford sophomore Christian Sanders, who played with the Defenders, started texting back and forth.
Iwundu said it’s been like a big family reunion since they all arrived in St. Louis. Aaron said the group text between them and former Defenders teammates has included mostly friendly banter, and a little trash talk too.
“It was really just a lot of goofy stuff, a lot of funny stuff,” he said. “Wesley is really funny. On my AAU, team he’s probably the funniest guy on there actually. It wasn’t really anything serious, we were just goofing around, playing around.”
Iwundu said he’s been able to watch the Harrison twins throughout the season, with the SEC and, particularly Kentucky, shown on ESPN often.
But just as the Kentucky team struggled to live up to its preseason No. 1-ranking, the Harrison twins struggled to adjust to the pressure of playing for a team with high expectations.
Iwundu said he’s seen them struggle with the expectations, and then turn it around and play better as of late.
“They’ve been facing pressure their whole life,” he said. “They were just at a point where it was getting to them, but they’re fine. They’re really good, you can’t take anything away from them. They look confident.”
Iwundu acknowledged Thursday that he’s likely to be matched up with one or both of the brothers at some point during tonight’s game. A versatile player at 6-foot-7, Iwundu was a guard for his high school team until he shot up five inches between his junior and senior season.
For that reason, Iwundu said he could be guarding anyone on the perimeter. And if it’s Aaron or Andrew, he knows what he can expect.
“They like to break their defenders down,” he said. “They’re really fancy with the ball, they’re just good and creative. It’s a little exciting. We always wanted to play against each other. It should be fun.”
When they take the floor, they won’t be too far removed from the times Iwundu was making his way to the Harrison house to spend the night before a big AAU tournament. And it will still feel like family.
But when it comes to playing the game, anything goes.
“I played against him in high school a couple of times and it’s going to be fun,” Aaron said. “We’re just both competitors and we’re just looking forward to playing against each other.”