When sophomore Derek Willis acknowledged last week that he had "fallen out" with basketball because he was not playing much, a former Kentucky teammate could relate.
"Oh, perfectly," Jarrod Polson said.
The frustrating dilemma of not playing literally kept Polson up at nights.
"Basically, it came down to me making a decision," he said. "If I wanted to accept my role as a victory cigar or did I have that desire? Did I really want to play more?
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"I remember staying up late every night thinking about it. What did I want to do?"
Ultimately, Polson decided he wanted to play. And he did get a chance to play, most notably riding to the rescue against Maryland in the opening game of the 2012-13 season. But it wasn't easy getting to a happier ending.
The advice that Willis heard — to get in the gym more — can ring hollow. Teammates who play more are in the gym, too, so what's the point?
"Honestly, that was the mindset I had for a while," Polson said. "It all seems pointless. Why am I even doing this? That's the hardest thing. Putting in all the work when you're not seeing any results."
Willis denied that he was frustrated. But, maybe he's been frustrated.
His coach at Bullitt East High School, Troy Barr, said, "I think the honest word is he's frustrated."
Barr said he speaks or exchanges texts with Willis "pretty regularly." The reason is to "check where he's at as far as frustration level," Barr said.
Willis, who is from Mount Washington, knew what he was getting into with Kentucky basketball, a program built and maintained with a revolving door of highly regarded players.
"He knew what his freshman year would be like," Barr said. "Last year, he was never frustrated. He thought this would be his year."
Of course, another group of McDonald's All-Americans arrives at UK next fall and then another group the following fall. Being "recruited over," as college basketball parlance terms it, must come to mind.
"I think that's a little bit of a concern for him," Barr said.
Then there's the example of former UK player Kyle Wiltjer to ponder. He transferred to Gonzaga after two seasons, and now he's on the mid-season list for the Wooden Award.
Willis was emphatic about wanting to be on the Kentucky team for four years. "Regardless," he said.
But Willis, who has NBA ambitions, would only be human to see what Wiltjer is doing and wonder what-if.
"I think Derek looks at something like that and says, 'That could be me,'" Barr said. "It's perfectly OK for a kid to think that. I think any 18-, 19-, 20-year-old would think that."
Ironically, Wiltjer helped Polson persevere at UK. The two became workout partners, putting in the vaunted "extra time" under the direction of assistant coach Kenny Payne.
"I think Derek has a lot more upside than I ever did," Polson said. "So I think he'll be fine as long as he can somehow push through this time."
Barr tried to put the attention paid to Willis' playing time in perspective.
Kentucky was undefeated and routinely routing opponents, he said. "And we're talking about the 11th man getting playing time. And it's a huge story.
"That really speaks to how crazy things can be with Kentucky basketball."
'Beyond the Dream'
Polson hopes to complete a book project by March Madness. Titled Living Beyond the Dream, the book will chronicle his life.
"Basically, give the fans an inside look at my journey, the journey a lot of kids want to do when they're young," he said.
Polson said the book will present an "internal view" of what crossed his mind in four seasons on the UK team.
When asked how candid he will be, Polson said with a laugh, "It's not a tell-all book. I might get more readers if I did that. Maybe that's the next one."
When not working on the book with his brother, Wes, Polson is vice president of marketing and sales for a company called Kentucky Non-Profit Fund. "We try to help fund-raise for different non-profits," he said.
Basketball elder statesman C.M. Newton was not surprised that No. 1 Kentucky needed overtime to beat Ole Miss and Texas A&M in its first two SEC games.
"The thing people have to understand with (the Cats), they're going to have nights when they just don't play lights out," Newton said. "That's typical of very talented teams. You can look at the NBA and college. They all have those nights. I think they're past that."
When asked if he meant complacency inevitably sets in with such teams, Newton said, "Well, not so much complacency as you catch another team on a hot night. For example, Ole Miss. Jeez. Ole Miss didn't miss. Everything they threw up went in, and it kind of discombobulated Kentucky. Got them all on their heels."
Last week's game against Vanderbilt continued a pattern. If the basketball is competitive, UK's ballyhooed platoon system for substitutions gets scrapped.
Perhaps in anticipation of another one-sided victory, UK Coach John Calipari sent five players to the scorer's table the first three times he substituted against Vandy.
Thereafter, Kentucky substituted 24 times, 20 of which involved only one (14 times) or two players (six) entering the game.
When asked before UK played Missouri about Calipari's so-called platoons, ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said, "Well, he's not platooning anymore."
Alex Poythress's season-ending injury led UK to decommission its platoons, Vitale said he was told by Calipari.
"I asked, 'What dictates your substitutions?'" Vitale said. "He said, 'Minutes and performance.'"
That sounds like the answer any coach with a customary seven- or eight-man rotation would give.
Going into this weekend, there was a striking difference in the number of one-man substitutions in competitive games versus blowouts recently. At the extremes, there were 30 one-man substitutions and no five-for-five in the Louisville game. Against Ole Miss, it was 29 one-man substitutions and no five-for-five. At Texas A&M, it was 18 one-man substitutions and no five-for-five.
At Alabama, where UK won comfortably, there were only 10 one-man substitutions and three five-for-five adjustments.
Message: the platoons are largely for show. The important thing is managing player minutes so — as Calipari likes to say — everyone gets to eat.
When asked if fans should think that time-and-score considerations dictate UK's meaningful substitutions, Vitale said, "I think that's logical."
Kentucky's double-overtime victory at Texas A&M made an impression on ESPN analyst Dick Vitale. The important fact to keep in mind: UK made 28.1 percent of its shots at College Station.
"How many teams are going to win a game shooting 28 percent?" Vitale said. "Think about that. How many teams win a game — on the road — shooting 28 percent? That tells you a little bit about them as well."
Last week, syndicated columnist Norman Chad lamented the trend toward freshmen holding ever more influence in college basketball.
"... our Sports Nation has been in a reverse Darwinian evolutionary cycle for generations," he wrote. "What a cultural undertow we have routinely accepted:
"Before 1972, freshmen were ineligible to play men's basketball at the varsity level; in 2015, one-and-done is the standard at a basketball powerhouse such as Kentucky. So we've gone from not letting players play for one year to not expecting them to stay beyond one year."
Wrote Chad: "The freshman ineligibility rule was based on the quaint, ancient notion that it takes a year for an incoming student to settle in academically and adjust to college life."
In his weekly commentary for National Public Radio, Frank Deford saluted the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks. Those teams lead the NBA in assists.
"That is, the players pass the ball to one another," Deford said. "They play basketball, not superstar-ball. It may only be, shall we say, a passing fancy, but it's a delightful change for connoisseurs of the game."
The Kentucky Blood Center's annual "Big Blue Slam" is Monday through Friday. Fans for UK and Florida compete to see which side can make the most donations.
To help the UK side, there will be a Rupp Arena Blood Drive on Wednesday from noon to 7 p.m. Donors can take a few shots on the court before donating.
During the Big Blue Slam, donors can prove they bleed blue at any Kentucky Blood Center location (Andover and Beaumont in Lexington, Middletown in Louisville, Pikeville and Somerset). The blood centers will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.
Besides potentially saving a life, donors will receive a T-shirt and a chance to win a pair of tickets to the second- and third-round games of the 2015 NCAA Tournament in Louisville.
Rupp Arena donors are asked to park in the lot off Manchester and Jefferson streets and enter the arena through the doors on that side. It's the same entryway the Kentucky team uses. Parking is free in that Manchester Street parking lot.
To schedule a donation (including Rupp Arena), visit kybloodcenter.org or call 1-800-775-2522.
Donors must be 17 years old (16 with parental consent), weigh at least 110 pounds, be in general good health, show a photo I.D. and meet additional requirements. Sixteen-year-old donors must have a signed parental permission slip, which can be found at kybloodcenter.org.
To Perry Stevenson. He turned 28 on Friday. ... To Tony Delk. He turns 41 on Wednesday. ...To Larry Conley. He turned 71 on Thursday. ... To Chris Mills. He turns 45 Sunday (today). ... To Kevin O'Neill. The former Tennessee coach turned 58 on Saturday.