Q&A with former Wildcat Josh Harrellson: Center flourishes in professional league in Japan

Published 9:10 am Friday, April 21, 2023

By LARRY VAUGHT

Contributing columnist

Josh Harrellson helped Kentucky reach the 2011 Final Four with upset wins over Ohio State and North Carolina before the Cats lost in the national semifinals to Connecticut.

The likable center is still playing professional basketball as he’s wrapping up his seventh season in Japan where he recently went over the 5,000-point mark

“I have been very lucky to stay healthy for the past seven seasons. It is a lot of points, that is for sure,” said the 6-11, 260-pound Harrellson, who was recruited by Billy Gillispie but flourished under John Calipari. “Getting 5,000 points is a blessing. Thanks to all the teammates that have assisted me and all of the teams that have allowed me to play for them.”

Harrellson had 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in an upset win against Ohio State and All-American Jared Sullinger in the NCAA Tournament — and what UK fan will ever forget him slamming the ball into Sullinger — before coming back with 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists in the East Region final win over North Carolina to put UK in the Final Four.

Harrellson had brief stints with several NBA teams after getting drafted in the second round and also played overseas in three other countries before finding his home in Japan.

In 56 games for Fukushima this season, he has averaged 11.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals per game while playing 31.6 minutes per game. He’s a 36 percent shooter from 3 with 180 treys.

Here’s what Harrellson shared about his basketball and life.

Question: What has been the secret to being a consistent scorer for so many years as a professional now?

Harrellson: “I just play in the system to be honest. But I can adapt to any kind of system and that has been my best attribute. However teams want me to play or need me to play, that is how I play. My game is not limited to a certain style.”

Question: You are averaging a double-double this season along with four steals per game. At age 34, you have to be really happy with what you are doing other than just scoring.

Harrellson: “Yes I am 34 years old now. I am trying to do my best to help my team win and fortunately I am averaging a double-double this season with four assists and a steal or two. I am trying to be the best defender in my league.”

Question: Is the body slowing down at all for you? Just how much training do you have to do to keep going during a season?

Harrellson: “I do not feel that my body is slowing down very much. I am still averaging over 30 minutes a game and competing hard, playing back to back games every weekend. The older I have gotten, the less training I have done in the offseason. Mostly rest and spending time with the kids.”

Question: Do you see yourself still playing at age 40 or is there an after-basketball plan in place for your life? Any luck yet on getting that Japanese citizenship?

Harrellson: “To be honest, I think my body could play until 40 but mentally I do not want to play that long. I want to spend more time with my family at home and not be away so much. I am going to take the (citizenship) test in May so hopefully I can obtain the citizenship.”

Question: Another tough season for Kentucky basketball. Did you get to see any games or another NCAA loss for the Cats?

Harrellson: “Yes, I saw Kentucky had an up and down season. I really hope that they can figure it out and get back on track.”

Question: How is your family doing and how much do they enjoy watching you play?

Harrellson: “My children enjoy watching me play but they wish I was around a lot more … which I will be around more soon.”

Question: What if some UK fans wanted to reach out to you? What would be the best way to do that because I know how popular you remain with them and there was a lot of talk of what you did in that Ohio State upset during this year’s tourney again?

Harrellson: “If anyone wanted to reach out to me they could always DM (direct message) on Twitter or they could reach out to you if you are okay with that.”