By CODY PORTER, firstname.lastname@example.org
Just shy of three seasons ago, a walk-on at Kentucky had his 15 seconds of bliss greeted by more than 23,000 screaming fans instructing him to “SHOOT!”
Now, senior Jarrod Polson is seen in a different light. The Wilmore native’s fan-base tutelage has since been directed to those walking in similar shoes as walk-ons.
Since coming on to the Lexington campus, Polson, who was relatively unknown on the high-school basketball scene, has won a national championship and played alongside 15 current NBA players.
For 2013-14, UK basketball head coach John Calipari has once again reloaded, as fans are accustomed to him doing. Could they be better than prior Calipari teams? Expert minds say yes. But one known variable for the five projected pro prospects is that a one-time walk-on will be their guidance for the upcoming season.
While he’s had many dream worthy experiences, the biggest hurdle in understanding who Jarrod Polson is, is understanding that he’s not all that different from you or I.
“It’s kind of weird because as a kid growing up I thought of an NBA player as ‘woah’ — if I saw one I would freak out,” Polson said. “But now I’ve been playing against them in practice all of the time, and just seeing them go to the NBA, it’s kind of different. You just see them as buddies and not really a superstar.”
Polson grew up playing basketball in his backyard with his dad and older brothers, Eric and Wes. Having picked up a ball, which began shooting at 18 months, George Polson said his son Jarrod, despite being much younger, was typically a consensus top pick for pickup game selections.
“He’s always had a self passion for it,” George said. “I have video of him at 18 months shooting basketball; not throwing, but shooting.”
Always having had his favorites, such as Michael Jordan or Keith Bogans, George said Jarrod’s biggest influence for developing his game was as simple as having to go up against more experienced competition.
“He was just able to sharpen (his skills) against much older people,” George said. “It got to the point when they were choosing sides, they would choose him over these teenagers because he was better them.”
A 51-point game against Lexington Catholic on Jan. 24, 2009 marked the beginning of Polson’s trek to from West Jessamine High School to UK.
“He was always more of a team player,” George said. “He could’ve scored 35, 40 (point per game) if he wanted to, but he always deferred to his teammates. His high-school coach (Robert Hammonds) once asked, ‘What buttons can I push to get him to shoot. I cannot get him to shoot. He needs to takeover,’”
Polson could’ve played the AAU circuit to gain notoriety, but George said Jarrod was adamantly against that route.
“I want to be a normal kid; I want my summers off,” George said Jarrod often told he and his mother,
George said Jarrod always believed he could play college basketball at some level without having to risking living out his high-school experience.
“I remember Tonya Knight, Brandon’s mom, asked me up in Canada that first year. She asked me where Jarrod played AAU, and I’m like, ‘He didn’t,’” George said. “She gave me that dumbfounded look, astonished that Jarrod never played AAU and still ended up at UK.”
As is expected for a walk-on, Jarrod’s production at UK was limited until last season. His first two years resulted in a combined 28 games of action, five less than in 2012-13.
Although last year’s team paled by comparison of Calipari’s prior teams, Jarrod’s increase in minutes was a culmination of the seasoning, experience and growth he had undertaken since 2010.
Jarrod said while the likes of Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague and Ryan Harrow have thanked him for the battles he brought them, they too have helped mold him to what he is entering his senior year.
“I think that definitely helped them in the games and on to their future careers,” Jarrod said. “That’s really a big goal of mine, and always has been, is just to make whoever I’m going against better and they’ve made me a lot better, and I’m really thankful for them, too.”
That same devotion to work is what Jarrod said he believes got him into the situation he’s currently in as a Wildcat.
“I’m just going to work my hardest,” Jarrod said. “I have the last three years and I think that’s what the coaches, the fans and the players really appreciate … So I’m just going to try to leave the way I came in — trying to work hard.”
Hard work payed off in the Cats’ opening game of last season. On the grand scale of the newly opened Barclays Center, the kid from a town populated with a little over 5,000 residents enamored New York. Leading the Terrapin by one point, Jarrod was fouled with 7.7 seconds left.
Meanwhile, back in their Jessamine County home, George and Chrisi Polson were seemingly a nervous wreck, and shortly in the homes of many Twitter users around the globe. Two foul shots later by Jarrod and the Wildcats had a 72-69 lead, ultimately the final score, while he had what was then a career-high 10 points.
“The photo (on Twitter of Polson’s parents) actually puts it in perspective, but I was so nervous and overly excited,” George said. “It was one of those things where I couldn’t believe what was going on. Not that I doubted Jarrod’s ability, just that he got a chance to finally show what he was capable of, and he performed on a national stage like that.”
The moment that took George out of his chair and onto his knees was captured by Jarrod’s sister Alyse. Three days later in Atlanta for UK’s game against Duke, George and Chrisi were being approached by countless fans letting them know how much they enjoyed seeing their moment captured.
“We looked over during a timeout and she (Alyse) was giggling. I was like, ‘What are you laughing at?’ She goes, ‘That picture I took has already got over a hundred hits,’ and I just did that little slow look like, ‘What picture? What are you talking about?’”