By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s been a fan favorite since he decided to be become a Kentucky walk-on after a stellar career at West Jessamine, but junior Jarrod Polson knows he’s not exactly a household name in the college basketball world.
Asked how many of UK’s freshmen would have known his name nine months ago, Polson didn’t take long to answer.
“I don’t know. Probably none. That’s my answer,” he laughed and said.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon admitted he knew next to nothing about Polson after he came off the bench in the season-opening game to help UK beat the Terps.
Kentucky coach John Calipari is becoming more impressed, too, and had Polson in the second half starting lineup in Friday’s win over Long Island-Brooklyn.
“I think they (other players) have definitely taken me in and whoever is out there, is out there. I am definitely getting a lot more comfortable out there playing the minutes that I am. It is helping me out and is a good thing,” Polson said.
He’s averaging 4.8 points, 1.4 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game and has played 92 minutes in five games. That’s more than he played his first two years at UK combined.
“He knows what’s expected. In pick‑and‑roll right now, I kept telling him he keeps looking at the screen because he doesn’t want to get hit. Instead of going off the screen, they go and shoot the layup,” Calipari said Friday. “When you talk about him offensively, he’s played against some of the best players in the college game the last few years and has done fine.
“I have a lot of confidence in him. He makes the 3. He makes free throws. I’m confident in that. And he also is scrappy. Fifty-fifty balls he comes up with probably as well as anybody on our team. There may be a game or two where he’s just going to spot time because of the opponent we’re playing. But that’s few and far between.”
Polson played 19 minutes Friday and had five points — he was 2-for-3 from the field — along with two rebounds, one assist and one steal. He made only one turnover and has just three floor miscues this season — or one ever 31 minutes of play.
“Overall, I guess (I played) pretty well. We’re still trying to work hard on defense. I let a guy get past me one time there at the end and then I let a guy get two offensive rebounds so I’m really trying to work on defense. Offensively, I guess pretty well,” Polson said after Friday’s game. “I was a little surprised I started the second half. I thought we had a little run going towards the end of the first half and that’s when I was in. I guess he’s (Calipari) just goes with whatever’s working.”
Polson was a prolific scorer in high school when he led his team to two straight 12th Region championships. He’s not in that role at UK.
“Obviously I am not going to score 20 points or 30 points a game. I have to do the little things — drive, get loose balls, the intangible things,” Polson said. “I am getting more comfortable with the minutes. There are still some nerves, but I am having fun. I hoped I would be playing this much this year. That’s what I have been working for and hoping I could get all the minutes I could.”
He liked the way the UK offense ran Friday when the Cats had 28 assists and only 10 turnovers.
“We can get shots pretty much whenever we want, outside shots. We’re a team that is a driving team and I think we’re really successful when we do that so we’re definitely looking to drive more than shoot,” Polson said. “I definitely think we’re getting better on that, getting less out of control and finding the open man. We did pretty good with that tonight. We are happy with the win, but we did not play our best. Obviously, we have a lot of stuff to work on. Every team we play comes out on fire. We know that and have to handle that better to start games.”
Polson was thrilled that his older brother, Eric — he also has another older brother, Wes, as well as younger sisters Ashley and Alyse— was in Rupp Arena Friday during a leave from his duties with the Navy in South Carolina.
“Whenever the game is one ESPN, he always gets to watch. He is in the Navy and never really comes home, but he is home for Thanksgiving which is awesome. I was really happy for him to come today. He will listen on the radio if he can or watch on TV. He doesn’t like to miss games,” Polson said.
The two had some friendly rivalries growing up when the older brother at times could be a bit hard on the UK junior.
“He is loving now. He has always been my biggest fan,” Polson said. “Even in high school he would always come to my games. He used to always tell me I am going to the NBA and stuff like that. When we were young, we used to always play each other out in the backyard and they would be tough on me but now he is my No. 1 fan and I love him for that.”