John Clay: Teammates revel in Polson's success

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 10, 2012 

Kyle Wiltjer, Jarrod Polson, Brian Long left the court after the University of Kentucky defeated Maryland in the Barclays Center Classic held in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY., Friday, November 9, 2012. UK won 72-69. This is second half action. Photo by Charles Bertram | Staff

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Late Friday night, at the main table of the interview room on the ground floor of the billion-dollar Barclays Center, Kentucky's Jarrod Polson was being asked to explain the circumstances behind his clutch and unforeseen contribution to his team's close win.

After all, the former walk-on had played all of 31 minutes in 11 games as a sophomore last season, an on-the-floor contribution so slight that just minutes before Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon admitted he knew little to nothing about the former West Jessamine star.

Ah, but just because Polson had not made it onto the floor during Kentucky's games, he was still more than active on a different, possibly more important floor.

"(In practice) I've been going against some of the best players in the nation," said Polson on Friday night as his head coach, John Calipari, gently nodded his head in approval at the end of the table. "Just working hard against them every day has gotten me to where I am today."

Where Polson was on Friday was at the top of the Star of the Game list. Subbing for the sickly and ineffective Ryan Harrow, Polson scored a career-high 10 points, hitting four of five shots, while dishing out three assists in a career-high 22 minutes.

"He was the story of the game," Turgeon admitted.

The real story is that one of the overlooked benefits to all those No. 1 recruiting classes Calipari reels in year after year after year is the daily competition at the Craft Center, where terrific players and accomplished athletes go head to head as a matter of routine (practice).

What's that saying about a rising tide lifting all boats?

In 2011, Polson knocked heads with Brandon Knight, a top-10 NBA pick now starting for the Detroit Pistons. Last year, Polson knocked heads with Marquis Teague, the kid who turned out to be the point guard of the national champs, who was a first-round draft pick now with the Chicago Bulls.

But there's more. Polson not only went up against Teague last year, he also went up against Harrow, the North Carolina State transfer who was forced to sit out a season. And the two worked hard over the summer to help each other get better.

That made this year's situation a little different. Instead of having to deal with a new hot-shot coming on to campus, Polson had competed against Harrow enough to feel both comfortable and confident in his abilities. He knew that if for some reason he would be called on, he could handle the load.

"He was ready for this opportunity," Calipari said. "And as a coach there's nothing that makes me happier."

Well, having a fully effective Harrow might make Cal a bit happier. The coach was quick to say Friday night that he thought Harrow's recent flu-like symptoms affected his play against Maryland. He said that the North Carolina native did need some work on his game, but should be fine.

Calipari said that if for some reason Harrow couldn't handle point guard, he could play Archie Goodwin at the point with Harrow at shooting guard.

He didn't say that Polson could handle the position, but he didn't need to say it. We had all just seen it, for 22 glorious minutes in one of those wonderful instances where someone's hard work paid off at exactly the right time.

And though the public might not be able to see what Polson does in those UK's practices, his teammates know and you could tell their affection by the way they exulted in his success on Friday.

"I was extremely excited, even if I wasn't in the game," said Kyle Wiltjer, who had a pretty good game (19 points) himself. "To see another teammate play well is such a great feeling, especially someone I'm good friends with. Just seeing him out there playing really hard, we all knew he could do it. Just him playing like that really got me excited.

"It got us all excited."

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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