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Former walk-on Jarrod Polson got his first start Saturday against Tennessee. (Victoria Graff photo)

Former walk-on Jarrod Polson got his first start Saturday against Tennessee. (Victoria Graff photo)

By KEITH TAYLOR, ktaylor@winchestersun.com

KNOXVILLE — Jarrod Polson has been known for giving Kentucky a lift off the bench this season. Even in times of adversity, Polson did his best to make a difference.

The junior guard made the first start of his collegiate career Saturday and proved to be somewhat of a silver lining in the Wildcats’ disappointing 88-58 loss to Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Polson started in place of Ryan Harrow and finished with 11 points, a career-high.

His performance came when Kentucky entered Knoxville as a wounded animal. The Volunteers took full advantage and handed coach John Calipari his worst defeat in his four years as coach of the Wildcats. Even though Calipari had an idea of what to expect following a practice session Friday, he knew Kentucky’s first outing since losing standout center Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury in a 69-52 loss to Florida last week in Gainesville wasn’t going to be easy. Despite the circumstances surrounding the contest, Polson gave the Wildcats a boost even when the odds were stacked against the Wildcats. His performance drew praise from Calipari.

“He battled,” Calipari said. “Jarrod has played against the guys we’ve had the past few years and Julius (Mays) is a veteran. They understand that you don’t get your head down.”

While on the floor, Polson did just that and took advantage of his first collegiate career start. He made three of four shots from the field, including a 3-pointer. The West Jessamine High School product also made all four of his shots from the free-throw line and grabbed four rebounds. He had just one turnover and collected one steal in 22 minutes.

Polson’s previous career-high was a 10 points in Kentucky’s season-opening victory over Maryland. Thrust back into the lineup following a season-ending injury to Nerlens Noel, Polson was part of Calipari’s backup plan, but other members of the squad failed to follow suite.

Tennessee guard Skylar McBee got his first true look at Polson and came away impressed. In the first meeting between the two teams, Polson played just seven minutes in Kentucky’s 75-65 win over the Volunteers on Jan. 15 at Rupp Arena. This time, McBee got a better view of Polson’s ability on the court.

“I think Polson is a really good player,” McBee said. “He does a lot of dirty work for them. He gets in there and gets rebounds and he does a good job of passing, getting to the basket and finishing inside for a small guy.”

McBee also was impressed with Polson’s hustle plays, a trademark he’s been known for himself during his tenure at Tennessee.

“He plays hard,” McBee said. “He’s smart and you can tell he’s a very smart player and he plays hard all of the time.”

Tennessee’s Trae Golden also took notice of Polson’s performance and was impressed with his ability to breakdown Tennessee’s defense.

“He’s a great guard,” Golden said. “He’s good for them and he’s a good guard.”

Following the loss, Polson said the Wildcats have to “keep working” and find some way “to fix this.”

“We just have to stay positive,” Polson said. “We’ve got to find something that will help us and hopefully we’ll find it.”

24 Responses to Jarrod Polson battled in his first start and impressed Vols with his effort and smart play

  • Just goes to show you… What a Kentucky Boy with Heart can do, amongst all the Star Recruits. Never under estimate the Basketball Player that has a purpose and Pride ! Polson, will start the next game also. Alex appears to be Mad at Coach Cal, even Harrow held him back in the Tenn. Game and I saw his anger towards Coach, first hand at Florida…There’s more to this, but I’ll let it go for now.

    • Kokamo Joe says:

      Once it was the dream of a good many Kentucky boys to grow up and be a Cat. Throughout the state small towns swelled with pride when their local kid went to UK and became a Cat. Towns like Anderson County who sent Jimmy Dan Conner or Charles Hurt who came from Shelbyville. That cannot happen now. We, as well as other major college teams recruit from not just this country, but from the world. Calipari does try to have a Kentucky flavor because he does allow some Kentucky kids to walk on and he will occasionally recruit one, but they usually won’t play. But you say, Polson. He is a fine young man, and he gives it all that he has, but he is only playing because Calipari has to play him. He seldom saw the court last year and it won’t see it next year. The point is that great recruits from around the country just can’t relate to the tradition of UK like a Kentucky kid like Polson. I do agree with you about an undercurrent on this team. Players don’t seem to respect Calipari.

      • Ira says:

        This may be a team that might have issues respecting Coach Cal but not his others.
        Believe me, he will use it as a coaching and teaching tool to next years class that is coming in. Look what happens when you don’t listen to me. Look what happens when an individual thinks they are better than the whole.

        This year’s class is spoiled on the idea of literally of I’m a one an done at UK. I’m outa here I don’t need coach Cal.

      • King Ghidora says:

        What about Darius Miller? “Cannot happen” you say? It certainly isn’t like it was when Rupp coached. But like you said, UK has to compete on a world stage to excel. But there are lots of talented players coming out of the state. Many of them end up elsewhere but they could go to UK often enough. And I hate to be absolutely blunt about it but those kids from the mountains that made up the bulk of Rupp’s teams were mostly there because a certain group of players weren’t allowed to play at UK or they weren’t really ready for those players in Lexington and in the south if you get my drift. It stinks but there it is.

        Besides Miller, Hood has had his chance to play at UK. And in recent years there have been others. Certainly a guy named Mayo could have been a Wildcat if he chose to. He pretty much had his choice of any school in the country and last time I checked he started playing at Rose Hill high school just outside of Ashland. Patrick Patterson was from nearby Huntington too BTW. And of course the two were on the same Huntington team. Another Huntington player is currently high on UK’s want list. Wiggins is his name of course. I know it isn’t Kentucky but that Huntington team he plays for essentially took up the role Rose Hill was playing before local politics got the best of Rose Hill’s program. It’s hard to have a team when no one in the state will play you. So Huntington took over as the national power that Rose Hill would have been. Another Rose Hill kid was supposed to play at UK under a former coach. I really don’t know what became of Euton.

        Then going back a few more years a young kid out of Louisville made a splash or two. Rondo was his name. Then there was that Sparks kid too. Before that a guy named Estill played for the Cats coming out of Richmond and Madison Central.

        We could go back to the Unforgettables, most of which were Ky kids.

        It may not be as common as it once was but it certainly isn’t impossible.

        • Kokamo Joe says:

          Kentucky seldom produces the kind of talent that Calipari is recruiting. When and if a Kentucky kid is around, Calipari will grab him. If a Kentucky kid shows promise, he will likely transfer to a basketball factory like Rondo did. Billy Gillispie taped into the last gasp of Rose Hill when he committed UK to a Rose Hill product and the kid moved from Rose Hill to Scott County. Kentucky does produce some products who become very good college basketball players. A couple of examples: Preston Knowles from near by Clark County became the heart and soul of the UL basketball team a couple of years ago. Then there was Bryan Station’s Selvin Mach who started on a Butler team that played in the national title game. Neither of the two were on the national radar when they were recruited and neither became lottery picks. Calipari would not recruit either. He gets the cream of the cream. He would have harvested Rondo, Sparks would never have played at UK if Calipari was coaching then. I very much doubt that the Willis kid will play much. Next year’s recruits are just too good for him to get much, if any playing time. The year after that he will be recruited over. So the kid will likely have another career like Hood, unless Calipari has another disaster like the one that he had this year.

          • King Ghidora says:

            You said that Ky kids “cannot” live the dream and I gave you specific examples of players that did exactly that. Rondo is one of the best players of our generation. Miller was a great player. And no one place produces the kind of talent Cal recruits on a regular basis. But that was not the point. You said “cannot”. Well they “did”. And there have been lots of other Ky players that could have made a splash on the team. Yes they played at other schools but let’s look at Polson. I think he has lived the dream to a large extent. It can and does happen. It won’t be common but to expect a population the size of Kentucky to produce loads of UK level talent every year is just unthinkable. It can’t happen. But individual players can make it. You glossed over Mayo. He was considered one of the best high school players to come along in decades. And he was a Kentucky kid. How could he not have even had a chance to play at UK? Rondo turned out to be the better talent in the long run and he did play at UK. Your argument is specious at best friend.

  • grant says:

    There is always room for a hard worker on a basketball team no matter where he or she is from.

  • LindaS says:

    I seem to be repeating myself a lot lately, but as before. I always like Polson on the court. He directs the team with confidence, he talks to them, he sets up plays, he knows where his man is and how to get the ball to him. He might not have been a 5 Star player when he came to Kentucky, but he has 5 Stars in my book for his determination and love of Kentucky basketball.

    • King Ghidora says:

      He at least seems to understand basketball which is more than it seems some current players do. Maybe they understand it but they sometimes don’t play like they do. He certainly qualifies as a Ky kid who has done well for the Cats IMO.

  • LindaS says:

    BTW I think some problems, not all, is the new guys don’t know what it means to grow up and dream of playing for Kentucky. They don’t understand the history and tradition and think they are only going to be here one year and be done. I can’t say that about all the past one and dones, because they worked their butts off, but no one understands it like a Kentucky boy.

  • Ben says:

    I can tolerate lots of things with my team, but lack of hustle is not one of them. This team will not make the tourney, so now is the time for Cal to sit the players that are not giving their all. Alex, Ryan and Archie should not play at all the next few games. Then they can either give it their all, or leave the team. I will not support lazy, selfish players! I will still go to the games and support my team. These guys just do not respect the opportunity they have been given. Do they think the NBA will be any easier? They are going to blow a golden opportunity and it will be all on them!

  • UK 24 7 says:

    You can’t teach pride. Poison has had Kentucky pride ever since he knew what a basketball was. This is a huge learning experience for someone. No, not these freshmen but John Calipari. Without core players like Jarrod Polson, Darius Miller and John Hood he cannot succeed on a regular basis. They may not be “Parade All Americans” but they have that burning desire inside to represent UK without self gratification. Calipari is reaping what he has sewn. Some players see the others before them who were one and dones and use UK for a stepping stone to THEIR glory road, not UK’s. They see Wall, Cousins, Jones,Knight etc. on TV and imagine themselves in that position if they can “just get through one year” of college. Winning the national championship was a wonderful thing but competing in EVERY game is much more important to me. Without pride we are nothing as a basketball team or a society for that matter.

    • Kokamo Joe says:

      Re: Kentucky Pride. I don’t know about you, but I grew up with a dirt basketball court. I rigged a light so that I could shoot baskets night or day, rain or shine. Most of the time I was by myself and most of the time I was pretending to be this or that UK player. I would have given my right arm to play for the Cats. I think that that was common for Kentucky male youths. Those players who grew up and reached their dreams and played for the Cats became the life long hero of their small towns or cities. Note that their dream was to be a KENTUCKY WILDCAT and that dream began when many boys were just leaving diapers. Now the dream is to GO TO THE NBA. That makes a difference. Now, you have mentioned core Kentucky players and I do agree with you. Polson has become important this year. He has heart, he tries, and he has talent, but not the talent that Calipari is recruiting. Until this season he did not play, and next year he will not play. It is hard to imagine our super stars now or in the future following his lead. So, untill we get another Miller, I very much doubt that we will get much leadership or production from Kentucy boys. Remember, Miller was not recruited by Calipari. Here is a question for you. If Miller was a high school senior today, would he have played at UK and if Calipari recrited him, would he be given enough playing time to develop?

  • Anonymous says:

    Ben, cannot agree with you more. Just cannot fathom walking on to the court of a D-1 basketball game and not giving 100% ALL the time. To be a member of this program is a huge privlege and honor and to treat it any different is a disgrace. Hell, I suffered a few broken bones and still carry the scars from playing street ball as a kid because no one wanted to lose on the streets. Why can’t these kids do the same on a the college court.

    • King Ghidora says:

      You’re absolutely right. But too many of these kids have been told they are super stars since they were in jr. high and they start believing it by the time they make high school. They think all they have to do is get a few highlight reel dunks and they’re gonna get paid. Yeah we’ll see. Look out Saudi Arabia if they want to play for pay.

      • Kokamo Joe says:

        King you have said a mouth full. These kids are identified very early. They play AAU basketball the year round except when they are playing for their school teams. Coaches convince their parents that their future is golden and that they should repeat the 7th or 8th grade for their “futures.” The best often get “advisors” who guide them to non public high schools where the best of the best go to both promote themselves and to sharpen their skills. All AAU and many of the super basketball factory high schools emphaise scoring and pay little attention to defense. With both AAU and their special high school teams they travel the country over. If one of them is on the UK radar and if his team plays in the state of Kentucky we fill the arena and chant “Go Big Blue” from the start of his game to the end. The rating systems put the best on national notice and colleges began to court the super stars and I expect promise them the moon if they will just come to Big Time University. No wonder the kids head swell. The problem then becomes, especially if the team is almost all freshmen, MOLDING THE TEAM INTO A TEAM FIRST UNIT, TEACHING FUNDAMENTSLS, AND TRYING TO SHIFT PRIDE FROM SELF TO THE TEAM. Sometime it works and sometime it does not.

        • King Ghidora says:

          This is why I’ve always said “character has to come first” when it comes to recruits. Rupp preached that all the time. Without players who play team basketball you will not win. I think maybe Cal has gotten into a things of having to have the top recruiting class every year. That’s great as long as the players have character. If they don’t… The Cats have been really lucky with Cal and his players being super team oriented. But sometimes a national title can shake up that attitude. It happened to Smith with some other angles thrown in to cause friction. A player that thinks they can coast and still gets to play is like a bad apple. It can spoil the whole team. That’s why I think Cal needs a bench from now on. They don’t have to be great players. Polson level players will do just fine. I think too much talent can cause problems too although UK has managed to have teams that were absolutely loaded with talent yet still played as a team. But then UK wrote the book on team basketball. It’s the biggest reason I am such a huge fan.

  • mikie1941 says:

    I have said and still say since the first 5 games of this season that there are two players disrupting this team. Archie “Gunboat” Goodwin and Alex “Always Mad” Poythress. The UK basketball team will recover once these two birds are gone. When a coach has to spend the amount of time that Cal has with Goodwin and Poythress it is no wonder that undercurrents are created.

    I for one will be glad when they are gone. Coach Cal, I believe in you but at times I think that this NBA business is causing a conflict of interest between what is best for the University of Kentucky and these one and done players. Consider this. Our team is not an NBA farm club. This team belongs to the UK fans of the state of Kentucky. Not individual players and certainly not to the NBA.

    • Private citizen says:

      You left out Harrow.

    • Kokamo Joe says:

      It is plain that something is going on that is not good with this team. I won’t call out any players, but I will mention this: The two players that you mentioned plus Cauley-Stein have been mentioned as draft bait since they stepped on the U.K. campus. Although their stock is falling, I have always believed that they would be drafted and I still feel that way. I feel that it is vital that they go because IMO, having players leave early, even in a poor year, is good for recruiting. When our one and dones stop being ones and dones I see fewer ones and dones. Now, suppose they decide to come back. Does Calipari dare tell them to transfer? Unless there are duds in next year’s bunch these three will not get much playing time. What kind of problem will that cause?

  • Buck 1957 says:

    I think this one and done thing is crazy the only thung these players are doing is useing Ky. for a stepping stone to the NBA they could care less about Ky. baskettball tradition

  • Larry Pup says:

    Yeah there are problems, but let’s be careful not to make more of this than it is. I just think BBN needs to stay united. We need to back this team through thick and thin, and get through this season. There is no one I would rather have coaching this team than John Calipari. It ain’t over yet. Everybody quit whinning.

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