Like the Siberian tiger, Jarrod Polson is a near-extinct species: a senior on Kentucky’s freshman-driven basketball team. After playing a total of 46 minutes during the Wildcats’ non-conference schedule, he’s suddenly joined John Calipari’s rotation in the past two games, combining for 31 minutes against Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
Unexpected though Polson’s reappearance has been, it’s good news for Kentucky’s chances in the SEC. Although he averaged just 3.1 points and 1.1 assists per game in a similar backup role a year ago, the heady veteran has a lot to contribute to the still-green Cats.
1. He knows how not to shoot.
Kentucky’s starting trio on the outside—James Young, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison—is far more effective at scoring than at anything else. With those shot-hungry frosh around, Polson provides a valuable counterweight by running the offense without looking for points of his own.
Better offensive flow can help Kentucky cut down on the number of bad shots it takes—no small benefit to a squad shooting .305 from three-point range. Polson doesn’t rack up a ton of assists, but his low-profile presence can help make sure the ball finds the right scorers, even if he doesn’t get credit for it.
2. He knows the SEC.
Kentucky’s high-powered freshmen have half a season of game experience behind them now, but they’re still facing their conference foes for the first time. Polson has been through three full seasons of preparing for (and, mostly, defeating) the SEC’s best, and his knowledge of what the Cats are facing makes him a great choice as floor leader.
More specifically, he’s seen the backcourt pressure applied by teams such as Arkansas and Florida, and he’s the best-prepared of Calipari’s three PGs to keep his cool against it. The Wildcats will have lots of occasion to use multiple ball-handlers in conference play—combining Polson with one or both Harrisons and/or freshman Dominique Hawkins—and having one of them who’s used to the league’s defensive intensity will be a huge asset.
3. He knows how to win.
He may only have played 2.8 minutes per game at the time, but Polson provides a link to the overwhelming Kentucky squad that won the 2011-12 national title. No, it’s not the same as having Marquis Teague or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still around, but it’s a lot better than being without a single contributor who remembers what it took to go 38-2 over a full season.
Polson saw what worked for that championship team, not just on the floor but in the huddle. His decision-making will be a big help to this year’s Cats, but his ability to help the youngsters deal with the mental game will be even more valuable in crunch time.