Aaron, left, and Andrew Harrison had narrowed their final choices to defending national champion Kentucky and Maryland. / Kelly Kline, Getty Images
After months of speculation and scrutiny, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, two of the nation's best high school basketball players, said in a nationally televised announcement Thursday that they will play college basketball at Kentucky.
The verbal commitment carries more weight than other highly anticipated announcements by elite prospects because the Harrison twins represent what national recruiting analysts say is the sport's best package deal in recent memory.
Even if they play just one year before declaring for the NBA draft, they could form college basketball's best backcourt and make their team instant national title contenders in the 2013-14 season.
Maryland, SMU and Kentucky were the finalists for the brothers who play high school basketball at Fort Bend Travis High in Richmond, Texas, outside of Houston.
"I really want to thank Maryland and SMU for recruiting us that hard," Aaron Harrison said.
College coaches cannot comment on unsigned prospects. The Harrisons and other prospects can sign binding national letters of intent Nov. 14.
Kentucky had hoped the twins could be the cornerstones of a recruiting class that fans felt could ultimately exceed any class coach John Calipari has assembled in his career, which would be quite a feat for a man widely considered the game's best modern-day recruiter.
"Coach Calipari presented a challenge for us ... he would push us every day," Andrew Harrison said. "We just want to be better players."
Andrew Wiggins, the top player in the Class of 2014 who might reclassify to play college basketball next season, is scheduled to attend Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena on Oct. 12.
Touted power forward Julius Randle, who visited Kentucky on Sept. 15, has the Wildcats on his final list of six schools. And James Young, a five-star small forward, already has had an in-home visit with Calipari.
The strength and depth of the class, if they commit to Kentucky, could potentially rival that of Michigan's Fab Five in the early 1990s.
The announcement was met with strong reaction from some students on the Maryland campus: groans, doors slamming, cursing and chairs being overturned in a lounge at Ellicott Hall, a dormitory.
Said junior Brooks Rogers, 19: "It's a shame they didn't come to Maryland because with them we know our championship dreams would've come true. I still wish them the best of luck at Kentucky."
Added freshman Derek Leone, 18: "They would have been a valuable asset."
Maryland had several factors in its favor in the final weeks of the courtship:
-- The Harrisons' father, Aaron Harrison Sr., maintains great respect for Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, whom the dad calls the "most upright citizen I have met in basketball." The respect stems in large part from how Harrison Sr. saw Turgeon, then coach at Texas A&M, handle the 2010 death of Aggies recruit Tobi Oyedeji with grace and class.
-- Harrison Sr. also had a strong rapport with Maryland assistant Bino Ranson; both hail from the same Baltimore neighborhood.
-- Current Maryland big man Shaquille Cleare played on the same AAU team as the Harrisons in the Houston area.
-- Maryland is sponsored by Under Armour, the apparel company that also sponsors the AAU team for which Harrison Sr. coaches and his sons play.
Turgeon and Ranson visited the Houston area Wednesday to make closing arguments and attempt to land commitments that would immediately propel the Maryland program back to national relevance. Harrison Sr. said Wednesday that he enjoyed a "very good" lunch with Turgeon and Ranson while his sons were in school."
Maryland is coming on very strong in the end," Harrison Sr. said Wednesday.
Contributing: Daniel Weintraub in College Park, Md.
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