A lot is made of the Kentucky players that enter the NBA and become stars. Fresh from their one-year stints in Lexington, many become the face of the league's next generation.
Not much is made of the list of UK players that spend part of their NBA careers in the NBA's developmental league. One such player is Charlotte Hornets rookie Aaron Harrison.
Harrison, along with his twin brother Andrew, once saw their name in lights. Highly-prized recruits in the Class of 2013, the Harrison twins joined Julius Randle as part of a signature signing class for the Wildcats. Not only were the Harrisons ranked with Randle, but they found themselves in the same tier as future NBA stars Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
Aaron and Andrew weren't the instant impact stars the Big Blue faithful had hoped for and many had predicted. Aaron did however start all 40 games his freshman year and was named the SEC preseason Player of the Year entering his sophomore season.
Fast forward to June of 2015 and Harrison went undrafted while teammates and peers were going in the lottery. Despite an underwhelming collegiate affair, Harrison achieved his dream - he made an NBA roster - and the Hornets are certainly interested in his potential moving forward.
Hornets general manager Rich Cho swooped in on signing Harrison shortly after the 2015 NBA Draft had concluded. As one of several players brought in for a training camp competition, the Kentucky starter was by far the most high-profile. The college spotlight he played under caused his attraction from both fans and media members.
Harrison survived training camp and performed well during the NBA's Summer League, impressing the Hornets brass down in Orlando. His chances to make the team further increased during the preseason, but for a reason that had nothing to do with him.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist tore his labrum in a freak accident during a preseason game. Charlotte brought in veteran Damien Wilkins after the injury but the rookie wing just watched someone in his positional department go down with a long-term injury.
Head coach Steve Clifford remarked that the 15th and final roster spot came down to Harrison, Wilkins and Elliott Williams. Harrison won the battle and that's what he was for the 2015-16 season - the 15th player on a playoff team.
Harrison undoubtedly grew accustomed to his featured role at Kentucky and was all of a sudden shuffled to the very, very end of a bench.
The rookie appeared in 21 games during his first NBA season, averaging 4.4 minutes per game. His career-high in minutes also led to his career-high in points. Harrison logged 16 minutes in an April win over the Orlando Magic, producing six points in the extended minutes.
During his rookie season, the Hornets used Harrison in the NBDL whenever the opportunity was there for him to be sent down to get some floor time. In a three-day, two-game NBDL stint in March, Harrison poured in 27 and 34 points, respectively. In the first burst, Harrison made six of his 11 3-point attempts. 48 hours later, he went 0-of-7 from behind the 3-point arc but still managed to get his 34 points. Harrison also contributed 31 points in an early April NBDL trip.
The youngster was part of the stretch run for Charlotte and a part of the Hornets roster for their first round playoff series against the Miami Heat. He appeared in Charlotte's Game 3 win and the Game 7 blowout loss in Miami. He logged six minutes in the final outing, his second taste of (garbage time) playoff basketball.
How will the Hornets' new NBDL team affect his development?
The Greensboro Swarm, the new NBDL affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets, will begin play in the 2016-17 season.
This will be good news for Aaron Harrison and his future NBA career. About 40% of NBA players have NBADL experience so there is no shame in playing down there. The league has helped develop players like Hassan Whiteside, Danny Green, DeMarre Carroll and many more, including two of Harrison's teammates - Jeremy Lin and Troy Daniels.
Almost half of the NBA's players have spent minutes on a D-League floor and they wouldn't be in the big time without the process that got them there. Players with tools, and some may have a limited number of tools, but players that have the ability to play at the highest level often take a step back to refine their games and add on to them.
Harrison has tools Charlotte can work with. Coming out of college, Harrison wasn't a great shooter, but he has an above average ability at getting to the rim off the dribble. After a year at the professional level, he's still not a dead-eye shooter, but he showed a flash of it in a D-League stint this season.
Harrison worked tirelessly with Hornets shooting coach Bruce Kruetzer last summer and will undoubtedly do the same again. He'll be a big player in Charlotte's Summer League action and will likely enter the season on the Hornets roster, but with D-League stretches in front of him.
Harrison has a prototype 6'6, 210-pound frame to work with. He's got length, size and strength. He's also gifted with a high basketball IQ. At worst, Harrison could become a solid defender in the NBA with his physical attributes. If his outside shooting work continues to take place, Harrison could one day find himself scoring regular minutes off an NBA bench. And that work will come in Greensboro.