For the season, Ken Pomeroy ranks Kentucky 270th in America in bench minutes, giving the reserves only slightly more than a quarter of the team's total playing time. However, three players in particular are earning more of Calipari's trust since SEC play began.
Freshman center Dakari Johnson was lost in the wake of sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein's hot start to the season. From December 1 to Christmas, the Wildcats played five games in which Johnson averaged a mere 5.3 minutes. That included a game against Belmont where he did not play.
In wins against Tennessee and Texas A&M, Johnson played a total of 40 minutes, producing 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. His coach praised him for his tough play against the Vols' post duo of Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. "He's really doing some good stuff,” Calipari said to Keith Taylor of The Winchester Sun. “He's going after balls.”
Senior point guard Jarrod Polson has drawn 48 minutes over his last four games, matching his total over the Cats' first 14 games. He has made three three-point baskets and dished four assists against only one turnover.
Most successful, however, has been sophomore Alex Poythress. After averaging only 2.4 points per game in a seven-game stretch of the nonconference season, the Clarksville, Tenn. product is blossoming in SEC action.
The Cats have won four of their first five conference games, and Poythress' 10.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game have been a major reason. Calipari highly enjoyed the forward's performance against Texas A&M, telling The Advocate Messenger's Larry Vaught, “What you are seeing is what I am seeing in practice. He is just dominating."
Stars like Julius Randle and Aaron Harrison are getting the headlines for Kentucky, but these reserves must grow into substantial roles if UK is to fulfill a championship that looked predestined three months ago.