GREENBURGH - A year ago at about this time, Josh Harrellson was Kentucky’s husky center resolving just to stay in the starting lineup of a top-15 college team.
So the eyebrows were raised on his sweaty brow when Harrellson glanced down at the New York Knicks label on his practice jersey Tuesday, a dream realized in tangible form.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet that I’m actually in the NBA,” Harrellson gushed. “I was just in the locker room looking around seeing the names, seeing the Knicks logo on the floor. It’s just awesome to finally reach your dreams.”
The 6-foot-10, 275-pound Missouri native understands his toughest work is still ahead of him. The same could be said for second-year guard Andy Rautins, who is still trying to carve out his role after appearing in only five games with the Knicks last season.
Rautins, a sharpshooter out of Syracuse, has already been through one year of the rigors of the NBA. The Knicks acquired Harrellson in a trade with New Orleans after he was selected midway through the second round (45th overall) in June.
Both players, though, are examples of the potential pitfalls of the lockout. Without extended training camp (especially for Harrellson) or the NBA’s summer league (especially for Rautins), the clock is ticking for both to prove themselves.
“I’m a couple steps behind where I should be at this point,” Harrellson admitted. “Hopefully I can come in here and keep my ears open and watch the veteran guys.”
Rautins played with the Canadian National Team in Olympic qualifying in Argentina this summer, and he trained with teammate Landry Fields in Los Angeles. But he said he surely would’ve taken advantage of summer league games.
“I think it was a little bit disappointing,” Rautins said. “It probably would’ve been a great thing for me to come out to the summer league and play well and prove myself a little bit.”
Now he will compete with rookie first-round pick Iman Shumpert, as well as Toney Douglas and Bill Walker, for a role as a reserve guard on New York’s bench.
“Whatever the case may be, I’ll try and get my minutes in and help the team,” Rautins said.
Harrellson said he spent much of his time in Kentucky, at the Wildcats’ practice facility, where he trained with other UK alums John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Rajon Rondo. LeBron James even stopped by, Harrellson said. Pickup games were never difficult to find.
But NBA playing shape is hardly replicable. Harrellson said his main focus now is to work hard to get there, and to stay.
“Just trying to improve my ability to run up and down the floor like I did in college without getting winded and tired,” said Harrellson, who averaged 7.6 points and 8.7 rebounds his senior year at UK. “Hopefully I can come in and make an impact, getting rebounds, getting loose balls, doing the little things,”