Most Recent Posts
- Kentucky running back JoJo Kemp: “It’s all about the program, not me, and I like that we are getting good people.”
- Boise St. coach Leon Rice: “I have never ever underestimated” Calipari
- How close is Kentucky to being “unleashed?”
- Photo Gallery: Kentucky tops Boise State
- Kentucky Wildcats TV: Highlights from the Cats’ win over Boise State
- New hairstyle, same defensive dominance for Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein against Boise State
- Kentucky “really needed this win” over Boise State
- Kentucky-Boise State postgame notes and numbers
By RENE CORNETTE
By GARY GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
Here are five things to watch as top-ranked Kentucky begins the season:
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: Life is definitely good for coach John Calipari with two 7-footers in Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson. The Wildcats are in good hands with Cauley-Stein showing more confidence and fluidity and Johnson displaying a physicality that has NBA scouts raving. Both are obviously benefiting from going against each other daily in practice, and Calipari smiled when he said, “both are going to play. They don’t have to worry about it.”
YOUNG SURPRISES: Six-foot-6 swingman James Young might emerge as the star of this heralded rookie class. Each practice is revealing something different about Young, who can shoot and drive, and he has displayed impressive defensive skills even though Calipari hasn’t fully installed the defense. “I wasn’t a big defensive player in high school, so once I got here coaches got on me about my defense and I had to step it up,” Young said.
UNSUNG DEREK WILLIS: The Mt. Washington, Ky., native has been somewhat overlooked in the hoopla over all those high school All-Americans. But 6-9, 205-pound forward has impressed Calipari and his high-profile teammates with his skills and toughness. Wiry, quick and a smooth shooter, Willis just needs to bulk up. Still, his lean frame hasn’t stopped him from mixing it up in practice and he figures to contribute as a freshman.
NO IDLE CHATTER: On-court communication won’t be an issue with a group that clearly has established a comfort zone with each other. Whether it’s because the freshmen competed against each other in high school or because many of the Wildcats used the summer to get acquainted, the improved chemistry is apparent. “We have a pretty good feeling about what each other can do,” JuliusRandle said.
EARLY TESTS: Once again, Calipari has scheduled several tough nonconference games to see how his squad stacks up. The docket begins Nov. 12 against No. 2 Michigan State in Chicago; vs. No. 25 Baylor in Arlington, Texas on Dec. 6; and at No. 12 North Carolina eight days later. There’s also the annual showdown against in-state rival and defending national champion Louisville on Dec. 28. And in a comically ironic twist, the Wildcats will even host Robert Morris on Nov. 17 in a rematch against the team that upset them in last year’s NIT.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky coach John Calipari knows his players are ready for outside competition, even if it is just Transylvania in an exhibition game Friday night.
“We’ve been playing together now for 22 practices, so I think they’re just about ready to put it out there against somebody else. We’ll see. We’re still trying to evaluate who’s in that top six, seven, eight, who is it? We get another look,” said Calipari Thursday. “The (Blue-White) scrimmage kind of put out one thing, well let’s see it against somebody else and see how our guys do.”
Calipari was “proud” that his team committed only 20 fouls in the Blue-White scrimmage considering the emphasis this year on not allowing as much physical play on defense.
“We don’t want to foul. It’s not football. We don’t have to march a hundred yards to score. They score one, OK. Now score in five seconds. That really hurt? It’s not football. And I’m glad it’s not football and us having to be in the SEC playing football,” he said. “The officials are going to call things. And the good news is: All the propaganda and all the other things, they’re calling it. So you can say you hate it, you like it, you don’t; it doesn’t matter. Your team’s got to play. And now we’ll see.
“I believe everybody will adjust. I believe coaches will. I believe the players will. I believe scoring will go up. I think early there will be a lot of fouls by some coaches that weren’t adjusting, but the coaches that adjusted, maybe it’ll be 50 fouls on one team and 12 on another. One coach did what he was supposed to do, the other didn’t. Should be fun, though.”
Calipari said he wasn’t sure if freshman point guard Andrew Harrison would play against Transylvania. He sat out the second half of the scrimmage with a bone bruise.
“He’s got to take time. And right now it’s good because Aaron’s playing point. It’s giving us a chance to look at James Young playing both the two and the three,” Calipari said. “Now it gives us a chance to maybe put other guys at the three, try Julius (Randle) at the three. Dakari (Johnson) gives us a different look as a big player, more of a scorer than Willie (Cauley-Stein) is. Willie’s more of an athlete and active. We kind of got a good kind of mix. But right now with him being out, one guy’s misery is another guy’s blessing, another guy’s opportunity, and that’s what’s happened for us.”
When Andrew Harrison went out Tuesday, it let his twin brother, Aaron, move from two guard to point guard.
“He’s doing great. The only thing that’s hard: you have to attack and keep your teammates involved. What do you mean? Attack! Come on, why didn’t you pass that ball over there? ‘You’re telling me to attack.’ You need to attack, but I need you to find him. Did you know he didn’t touch the ball the last few times down? ‘No.’ Well, you gotta know that. You’re playing this position,” Calipari said. “Then he leaves the gym saying, ‘My brother’s position is harder than I thought.’
“It’s a tough position, especially playing for me and the way we play. I put a lot on the guy’s shoulders. He’s making his own calls. This is like a quarterback going out there and we talk about the game plan and then he makes the calls. It’s a hard deal.”
Calipari says he is still open-minded about his playing rotation, especially after the way freshmen Dominique Hawkins and Willis both played in the Blue-White Game.
“It’s all good in practice and drills and all that, but when you put people in the seats and it’s on television to 10 states and there’s 15,000 fans and it sets the Guinness World Book of Records (for scrimmage attendance), that you now see who performs when the numbers are on the back and the lights are on. Those two stepped up,” Calipari said.
“You’d like to play your whole roster because you’re up 35. Then you put all those guys in. But the reality of it is, I think you stretch it unless you figure out a way of playing more than seven or eight. Then you got to figure out. Now, if I had a veteran team, it wouldn’t really matter. But when you have young guys trying to figure each other out, you can’t keep throwing more to the mix. You got to figure out these six or seven. That group’s got to get good. How I figure that out, part of it is in practice. Part of it’s going to be in these games.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari put freshmen Andrew and Aaron Harrison, James Young and Julius Randle on the Blue team to start Tuesday’s scrimmage along with sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein. Returning starter Alex Poythress was on the White team along with freshman Marcus Lee and Derek Willis and seniors Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson.
Calipari wouldn’t confirm that his four McDonald’s All-Americans on the Blue team would be in his starting lineup.
“Here’s what I would say to you: When you looked at what we did, you kind of got a picture of while you’ve got this guy, this guy, that guy, but what about Derek Willis? Where does he fit in here?” Calipar said. “I mean, and then you look at, well, what about Marcus Lee; he’s pretty good too, now.
“And then you look at Dominique (Hawkins) and say, wow, I’m not going to play 11 guys. o there’s a little bit of a dogfight. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to do this. We’ve got to have a little plan about it, and then everybody has got to buy into what we’re doing and their roles on the team.”
That includes Poythress, who turned down a chance to put his name into the NBA draft to stay at UK.
“I’m trying to get Alex, and I think Alex is playing better. Be a finisher; you’re not a play starter. That’s not what you are,” Calipari said. “Don’t put him in a position to start plays; put him in a position where he can finish and get to the basket or he can make a jump shot. Let him be a play finisher. And he’s buying into that, and I think he played more comfortable today than he has in a while.”
By LINDA SINCLAIR
I find it quite interesting that some people are on the Calipari 40-0 bandwagon. It would be a great thing to do but realistically can it be done? I say no.
Why am I not a believer? Easy enough … eight freshman. No matter how good these young boys are, they are still freshman. How many times have we seen extremely good players make freshman mistakes?
Cal is up on this team, he feels good, oh so good and he knew he would…da da da da da…But no matter the talent, no matter the coaching, things happen. Don’t forget refs, don’t forget other players trying to take ours out like they did Anthony Davis all year in 2011-12. Missed passes, stupid fouls, stepping on the line, etc, you know the scenarios it can be very ugly. Kentucky, Cal and the players always have a bulls-eye on their backs. We are Kentucky; remember that and what it means.
They have been playing against each other, they have not faced another team yet that has a different mindset, physicality and experience. They are freshmen; they have not set foot on a basketball court yet where we expect them to win. Can you imagine how nervous they will be the first time they face a ranked team, a good team? No amount of preparation from Cal can prepare them for that first game.
Willie and Alex are experienced players now; they know what it will take to win. They are more motivated and focused. They saw what was wrong last year and maybe, just maybe they can make sure there is no I in team this year.
We have Jarrod, our boy, he knows too. He might not get a lot of playing time but he is there, he is a role model and he has played against some of the best during his time at UK. Maybe, just maybe he will be the soul of this team this year, like last year and have some fatherly talks with the boys when Cal is not around.
We have Jon Hood back this year. He can shoot but how much time will he get. He is confident and healthy. He’s one of the old men on the team like Jarrod.
I want to see a Team, I want to see this team sharing not just on the basketball court, but sharing good times outside of the court. I want the ‘brotherhood’ back. That was a tremendous feeling to see those young men such great friends. We use to see post of the team going to dinner, doing things together but we didn’t see that last year. We heard about a few visiting the sick and elderly, going out of their way to be extremely kind to fans and small children, but nothing like in years past since Cal has been at Kentucky.
It is a huge burden for any player, but freshman are still wet behind the ears. We don’t know what is going on in their lives; we don’t know what kind of pressure they have before a game or during a game. Did they have words with a girlfriend or teammate? We don’t know if something is bothering them about their family. Classes, tutoring, practice, not enough sleep, not enough to eat, lack of funds to do what they want to do on the precious free time can all affect how they play. They are not robots.
It has been said this is the best recruiting class ever assembled for college basketball, but will the basketball gods look with favor on this team, will the stars be aligned for them? No one knows until the season is over in Atlanta.
I don’t care about 40-0, I care a little about #9, but what I care most about is a winning season, a good effort and no rumors or dissension like last year.
Vaught’s note: With UK Media Day set for today and Kentucky, UK at the SEC Media Day Wednesday and Big Blue Madness Friday, it’s not to early to let Richard “Professor” Cheeks unveil his preseason forecast.
By RICHARD CHEEKS
The 2012-13 Kentucky basketball season ended just as this fearless forecaster suggested it would, with Kentucky’s eighth national championship, with only two losses (not the forecast three) scattered along the path to glory. Coach Calipari’s first three teams fell one win short of a final four in 2010, one win shy of the Championship game in 2012, and carried the big prize back to Lexington in 2012. Coach Calipari is spreading the word, wide and far, of the shared sacrifice that the 2011-12 Wildcats displayed on their way to the immortal recognition of the Big Blue Nation.
However, the wheels came off the Big Blue Express in 2012-13
When the most dependable returning player from the Championship team turns out to be a former walk on, Jarrod Polson;
When the recruiting efforts failed to catch a prize point guard to replace Teague;
When the highly touted freshman class did not grow into men in the course of 2 to 4 weeks as previous groups had done; and
When the team’s marquee freshman player ended his college career laying on the court at the base of a goal standard in the team’s loss at Florida.
These factors kept the defending NCAA Tournament Champions from even a cameo appearance in the 2013 big dance and denied them an opportunity to defend their title. The NIT shipped the team off to Pennsylvania where their season ended with a loss to Robert Morris.
Clearly, neither Coach Calipari nor the Big Blue Nation want a repeat of 2012-13, and both hunger for a return to the dominance they enjoyed in 2011-2012. That team’s freshman class included the eventual #1 and #2 draft picks in the 2012 NBA draft. That team included two sophomores who held over from the year before, each of whom earned NBA draft spots in June of 2012. That team included one senior who had paid his dues, learned to play the game the way Coach Calipari taught him, and led the youngsters by filling the role of a leader, with maturity as his ally.
So, how does Coach Calipari recapture the magic of 2012 while leaving the bitterness of 2013 in the rear view mirror? He will try by repeating the 2012 formula of success. This team’s freshman class is very talented, and very deep. Rick Pitino has said this is the strongest UK freshman class in the last 20 year (which spans the classes that propelled his UK teams to 3 final fours, a runner up, and a championship in the mid 90s. Other have ventured to say that this freshman class is the strongest ever in college basketball. This team has two sophomores who have held over from the year before, each of whom will earn NBA draft spots in June of 2014. This team includes two seniors who had paid their dues, learned to play the game the way Coach Calipari taught them, and can provide the senior leadership that includes one NCAA Championship ring on each of their fingers.
Coach has spoken of his emerging teams with a candor that has defied the skeptics. In 2009-10, he spoke of a team that had so much to learn, that would loses some games in the process, and even though that team managed to capture victory from the jaws of defeat, Coach Calipari’s public face always counted them as losses when he spoke. In 2010-11, despite the bevy of 1 and 2 point road losses, Coach Calipari spoke of championships, and a team that would be ready at season’s end. In 2011-12, Coach Calipari saw their rare and special character early, and spoke of his team as the team to beat, and they were. Last year, Coach was cautious in his words about the season’s prospects. He knew he had a point guard that was not from the mold that would produce greatness, and he saw his yearlings having more trouble making the transition to the college game. That is why he joked so frequently about the Big Blue Expectations, e.g. “We expect you to win another Championship,” of course.
Listen to Coach Calipari as he approached the 2013-14 season. He speaks of chasing greatness. He speaks the unspeakable, of an undefeated championship season. He speaks of pressure as a positive, not a negative that many want it to be. He speaks of alpha males and the leadership that will bring to the floor. Odds are that one year ago, Coach Calipari knew he was working to establish the foundation for 2013-14 to make another run at a title, and if delivered, UK’s ninth.
As always, my blue tinted view ahead for the 2013-14 basketball season is standard operating procedure. I make no apologies for my unabashed optimism for Coach John Calipari’s fifth UK team. I have listened to Coach’s words during this off-season, and I believe it is fair to conclude that Coach Calipari is also very optimistic about this team.
Three Octobers ago, I projected a 31-7 record, with the season ending with an Elite 8 loss. As Calipari’s second season turned out, the final record was 29-9 with the season ending with a disappointing Final Four loss. Coach Calipari has been clear that in his opinion, that team was playing better basketball at the end than anyone else on the scene. Two Octobers ago, I projected a 37-3 record, and a National Championship. Many who read that projection said that the team may be able to win it all, but three losses were too few. The team did win it all, and only sustained two losses (38-2) along the way. Last October, the giddiness of top 5 pre-season rankings, the back drop that 2010, 2011, and 2012 had created, and the lofty praise given to another #1 recruiting class, led to a 35-5 projected record. However, the 2013 team lost 5 of their last 9 games after Noel’s injury after a 17-7 record to that point.
In 2013-14, Coach Calipari will again demonstrate that he is among the best in the game at molding his teams into national contenders and final four participants. Coach Calipar is further motivated today by the sting of disappointment that marked the 2012-13 season.
Some of Coach’s critics even look for reasons for his recruiting success. All that this Coach has done since arriving in Lexington is produce the #1 recruiting classes in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013. Many view the 2012 recruiting class as only the second best in the land.
Just as it has after each of Coach Calipari’s first three years, UK again suffered deep roster loses from last year’s team. Gone are seniors Twany Beckham and Julius Mays. However, the Big Blue Nation also bid farewell and best wishes to Sophomores Kyle Wiltjer (transfer to Gonzaga) and Ryan Harrow (transfer to Georgia State). The Cats also felt the pride of the Nation when Freshmen Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel both earn first round draft selections in the NBA draft this past June. These post 2012-13 losses represents 6 of the 10 scholarship players, and of the returning four, Jarrod Polson, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Alex Poythress logged significant minutes. Jon Hood only played 143 minutes in an injury-plagued season. Therefore, this team starts from a “nucleus” of two seasoned sophomores and two seniors.
Coach Calipari has again transformed the roster over the course of the last 7 months. This transformation has again placed the Wildcats at the head of the class with respect to discussions about another national championship, with pre-season polls ranking the Cats in the top 3, with Michigan State, Duke, and Kansas also getting great ink in the pre-season opinion polls. The four scholarship players that return are accompanied by 3 returning walk on players, Sam Malone, Brian Long, and Tod Lanter. Coach Calipari has filled the rest of the roster with 9 freshmen, one of whom is a walk on, E. J. Floreal. The headliners in the incoming freshman class are Julius Randle, Aaron Harrison, and Andrew Harrison. However, freshmen Marcus Lee, James Young, and Dakari Johnson are not chopped liver. Furthermore, Derek Willis and Dominique Hawkins are a pair of Kentuckians who will contribute over the course of their careers at UK, which most believe will span multiple years.
The prediction and projection of 2013-14 season reflect the continuing excitement that still swirls through the Big Blue Nation. Many critics will undoubtedly comment that these predictions are overly exuberant, and I plead guilty to this exuberance! If this team fails to “measure up” to these expectations, the world will not end, and I will acknowledge that errors of my way, but until then, this is my story, and I am sticking to it.
The University of Kentucky Basketball Schedule for the 2013-13 season includes 13 non-conference and 18 SEC games for the regular season. The Cats open at Rupp Arena for a pair of tune-up games against UNC Ashville and Northern Kentucky before their trip to Chicago for one of the most significant November matchups of this coming season against Michigan State. The Cats return to Rupp for four (4) home games against Robert Morris, Texas-Arlington, Cleveland State, and Eastern Michigan before hitting the road again for a pair of neutral court games against Providence and Baylor. The non-conference portion of the schedule continues with a home game against Boise State before the only non-conference road game, this year at North Carolina. The Cats close the non-conference schedule with home games against Belmont and arch rival Louisville.
The SEC schedule begins at Rupp against Mississippi State before a two game road swing through Vanderbilt and Arkansas. The remainder of the UK road schedule includes stops at LSU, Missouri, Mississippi State, Auburn, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Florida in what should be the toughest SEC match up of this season in the last game of the regular season. The 2014 SEC schedule has the Cats playing home-away series against Mississippi State, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi, and Florida.
This team will get perhaps its most difficult tests of the non-conference season when it ventures out of Rupp to take on Michigan State and Baylor on neutral courts, and North Carolina in the Dean Dome. The only home game during the non-conference season that will not see UK as solid favorites will be when Louisville (defending champions) come to Rupp on December 28, 2013. In the SEC, the road trips to Missouri, Vanderbilt, Mississippi, LSU, and Florida will be the most likely games to hand the Cats conference losses. If the Cats hold serve at Rupp and win the “winnable” SEC road games, the Cats should approach the season ending road game at Florida with a record of 16-1 in the conference and the conference championship and #1 tournament seed locked up.
Calipari’s Cats will enter the SEC Tournament as the team to beat, but the Cats will fend off all challenges and win another SEC regular season and SEC Post Season Tournament championships in 2014. In the NCAA Tournament, the Cats should secure a #1 seed, and advance to the Championship Game, and given the Cats’ record in Championship games, I believe the UK Wildcats will bring home the hardware for the 9th time.
PREDICTED 2013-14 RECORD:
SEC Tournament: 3-0 [SEC Tournament Champions]
NCAA Tournament: 6-0 (NCAA Tournament Champions)
Final Record: 37-3
By SARAH WHITE
Another year, another women’s clinic – each one a little larger than the last. This year there were 660 women registered. As usual, we were lucky enough to find two of our new friends from last year – Tammy and Kelli, plus we met two more wonderful people – Karen, and her daughter Emily. I know this sounds childish, but one of the best parts of the clinic is making new friends who become great friends after awhile.
Coach Robic is always the best part of the clinic to me. He picks on me and calls me “trouble, “ but he always makes me laugh. Hopefully, I make him laugh as well. I look forward every year to knowing he will remember me and kid with me. This year I was a part of a shooting drill. Trouble is that I can’t shoot, so each time it came my turn, I threw the ball to Coach Strickland to get him to shoot for me. He missed 4 layups in a row. I finally told him he needed to practice, and I needed a replacement for him. I was able to talk to Coach Strickland after the clinic, and I think he knows he is going to be ribbed quite a bit for missing every single shot he took in my place. He told me the teasing had already started. I warned him that he had better practice between now and next year.
Coach Cal then gave us his Coachspeak – I call it Cal-ish (Cal English). He is so smooth when talking to the crowds. He continues to tell us this is a player’s first program; be patient with these guys since they are so young, and they will get much, much better. I think he certainly correct on that. You could feel their intensity in their practice.
This team was fun to watch. Julius Randle is a beast ( beast with a smile that lights up the room); James Young is quite a hustler and shooter; the twins are what we expected; and Dakari Johnson is going to be lethal as well. Marcus Lee has a wonderful personality. He is thin but pogo-ish in his jumping. I think he will end up being very good. Alex Poythress played on what I would consider the second team, and he has really improved on his intensity. He still hangs his head when he misses, but I think he is getting much better. Jon Hood is really shooting well from the three-point line, and he really hustles. Jarrod Polson looked good as well. He held his own with the other players. I really do think this group is progressing nicely. Hope they learn to laugh some (that was missing), but I am sure it is a big leap to go from playing high school to playing in front of 600 + crazy women.
One of the most exciting things to me was the piece of the Final Four Floor that was given to us on the way out! I know I will treasure this until I die. Coach Cal and staff always try to make this perfect for us. Can you imagine – trying to please 660 women? But, they really, really try.
I am exhausted after 6 hours at the Women’s Clinic; but, I am already making plans with Josie (and Jennifer and Angie if they are available) to come back next year. As an out of state person, this is such an awesome experience for me to meet the players and coaches one more time.
I can’t express enough how wonderful this clinic is. For $100, it is reasonable and well worth every penny. The coaches obviously plan and think carefully what will make us happy. Are 100 % of the women happy, heck no; but, how do you ever make 660 women (or men for that matter), love everything you do. And, I can’t say enough about how pleasant the guys were as they signed item after item and Coach Cal signed item after item.
I love this experience, and I love this team! Go Cats!
By CODY PORTER, Jessamine Journal
Kentucky senior Jarrod Polson said nothing could really top being a part of the team that won the Wildcats’ eighth national title, and the possibility of adding to that legacy could be on the horizon.
“I’ve played with a lot of talent in my three years so far, but this year’s talent could be even better than that,” Jarrod said. “Just the will to win is what I’ve noticed the most about this team. Even in the pick-up games, everyone’s going as hard as they can because they don’t want to lose. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s different about the last few years — we just want to win so bad and expect to win.”
The story of the Wildcats’ season has yet to unfold, but donning a new number (No. 3), Polson will step on Cawood’s Court one last time for his and Jon Hood’s senior day against Alabama.
It’s something Jarrod said he and Hood have thought about and discussed quite often, but with that said, Jarrod said don’t expect to see him cry.
“I think he will probably — from a fan perspective — get one of the loudest ovations of any Wildcat ever, obviously, because he’s local and a fan favorite,” George Polson, his father, said. “I think it’s going to be pretty overwhelming for him and us as parents. I can guarantee you (Chrisi’s) going to be crying, and I very well might. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool-blue fan … it will be surreal for us.”
One thing Jarrod said he hopes differs from his senior season of high school is living up to expectations, where as a Colt, West Jessamine fell short of its goal after reaching the state semifinals during Jarrod’s junior year.
The glimmer of his high-school son, which reappeared last November against Maryland, is what George said he hopes to see again.
“I told one reporter at the time who called that it’s so fun and exciting to finally see that look on Jarrod’s face again, like he used to have in high school,” George said. “I said it was literally like a caged animal set free, because it was like, ‘Finally, I’m out, I finally got my shot.’”
Acting as the “proverbial coach on the floor,” in the words of George, Jarrod’s four-year transformation will look to continue as he tries to solidify his hope of playing basketball overseas in the years to come.
“That (Maryland game) showed everybody that he’s not the kid that they need to yell ‘shoot’ at anymore,” George said. “He’s more than just the regular walk-on.”
By CODY PORTER, email@example.com
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?’”
By LARRY VAUGHT
John Calipari has heard plenty about the “disappointing” freshman season that Alex Poythress had. Of course, at times the Kentucky coach sounded frustrated and disappointed himself with Poythress last season even when he averaged 11.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 25 minutes per game while shooting 58 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range.
“He just wasn’t Anthony Davis. But as far as freshmen go, he was good. But I had to play him whether he was playing bad or good. It wasn’t his fault what happened. But he can shoot,” said Calipari.
Poythress didn’t put his name into the NBA draft as former teammates Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin did last year. Instead, he opted to come back to UK along with Willie Cauley-Stein and is now the most experienced player on Calipari’s talent-laden roster. Calipari also likes the change in Poythress’ mindset.
“His head’s up, he’s looking you in the eye. He’s not … I think he’s more confident. He’s ready for the year,” Calipari said. ”He’s well beyond where he’d been. But that’s the growth. Again, when you look at his numbers as a freshman in this league, you say, he had a hell of a year for a freshman, But this is Kentucky. This is a different animal.
“There’s nothing like this. There’s never been anything like this, what we’re going through, and everybody’s held to a different standard. It’s just how it is. If you want to come here, you better accept that, or don’t come here. It’s not changing. You think it’s changing? No, it ain’t.”
So has Poythress changed?
“Now what happens to him is he comes back, he knows ‘I’ve got to change. There are things I’m going to do different, and I’m going to do them.’ It’s part of growth. And that shouldn’t be like something bad,” Calipari said. “You know how happy I’d be if I had guys for three and four years? I’d be ecstatic. Are you kidding me? But, each year, we’ve got … Each kid is on his own time frame.
“Like I tell these kids when we recruit them, ‘I don’t know what your timeframe is. I don’t know what the maturation for your body is going to be. What do you think, I’m looking into a crystal ball and I know stuff? I don’t. I don’t know if you’re skill level is going to come. I don’t know if you have toughness in late games to make plays to turn people on. We don’t know all that. If you have all that, then you’re going to leave after a year. If you don’t, you can’t, you’re not leaving after a year.”
Calipari has more depth this year than he did last season when Noel’s injury doomed UK to the NIT. This year if a player is not playing well, Calipari will be able to put him on the bench because he believes he has depth at every position.
“We don’t have too many guys, but I think we have enough where everybody’s going to be kept honest,” Calipari said. “But we’re young. We have two (guys back who started last year). (But) This team went to an NIT and lost on the road (last year).”