Hood, Polson a dying breed as four-year players at UK

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 3, 2014 

There might never be another Senior Night like Tuesday night. Of course, the reliance on so-called one-and-done players casts doubt on how much longer Kentucky can stage these sentimental farewells. Bolting to the NBA, no matter how much financial sense it makes, is all prose and no poetry.

If this season's final home game is the last time four-year players wave goodbye, this most-touching of UK basketball moments will go out in style.

Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson return UK basketball to its roots. They are from Bluegrass soil, Madisonville and Nicholasville, respectively.

"They are everybody's grandsons," Polson's father, George, said. "They are everybody's sons. They're everybody's cousins. Everybody in Kentucky, especially the boys, can relate to them. They give everybody the hope, 'Hey, maybe I can do that, too.'"

Jarrod Polson acknowledged that to wear a UK uniform seemed unrealistic. To play for Kentucky was not for mere mortals. "I'll be honest," he said Monday. "I probably never expected to be here."

Polson got to play for his "dream school" because another smallish point guard, Mr. Basketball Elisha Justice, chose to play for Louisville rather than Kentucky. No one expected Polson to be more than a good-looking face in the team photograph (oh those dimples!).

"I don't know if a lot of people thought that," he said of a playing role for himself. "Or even people close to me would ever think that just because Kentucky is on such a high level."

Then, out of nowhere, Polson came off the bench to score 10 points and spark a Kentucky victory against Maryland in last season's opening game.

"That was kind of the rise of my career or whatever," said Polson, clearly uneasy about taking a bow.

Ironically, to play for your "dream school" enabled Polson to separate fantasy and reality.

"A lot of fans see the glamor of it," he said. "Everybody is a pop star. That's really cool.

"But there's a lot of hard work that goes into it."

Polson's father noted the sweat, the strain and the clear-headed, decidedly unsentimental side to Kentucky basketball.

"He's basically clocking in and going to work," George Polson said. "It slaps you in the face. This is reality. It is business. It's not all fun and games. There's heartache. Sometimes it's before you get out of practice."

Hood also knows that disappointment walks hand in hand with celebrity in UK basketball. A former Mr. Basketball himself, he saw his college career complicated by a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a case of mononucleosis and, earlier this season, a concussion.

"It's been frustrating not seeing him play," Hood's father, Brian, said. "But there's somebody on every team that goes through this and has to be that guy. One good thing is when he did get the opportunity, he did perform."

No matter how far down the bench he sits, many Kentucky players enjoy a signature moment. Hood's came at Mississippi State earlier this season when he came off the bench and sparked a 69-59 victory.

Hood downplayed the moment. "It doesn't matter what role I played," he said. "A win is a win. I played five seconds at South Carolina (last weekend). It was a loss. So that will haunt me as a loss."

For Hood, mere victory or defeat is secondary to the fraternity of brotherhood he joined. His father, who played for Northeast Louisiana (now Louisiana Monroe), recalled his son accompanied him to a team reunion.

"He was amazed," Brian said. "Guys I hadn't seen in 20 years, we were just as tight.

"He understands now."

Hood said he will cherish the relationships he continues to have with UK teammates, a who's who of recent college basketball beginning with DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Eric Bledsoe.

"Means the world to me," he said. "It's not the on-court stuff."

There will be on-court stuff on Senior Night. UK Coach John Calipari said he would start Hood and Polson.

But in the grand scheme of things, that's incidental. George Polson and Brian Hood both used the word "bittersweet" to describe their sense of Senior Night. Through their sons, they became part of UK basketball. Surely, some Kentucky fans lived that same vicarious thrill.

"It steals part of your heart," George Polson said. "As trite as that is, it's very true."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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