NEW YORK — John Calipari’s list of point guards across the last five years has been a Who’s Who of lottery picks and transformative NBA players.
Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague went first, fourth, first, eighth and 29th in the last five NBA Drafts.
One year after winning his first NCAA championship with Teague as the floor general, Calipari doesn’t have anyone even close to that level of player on this year’s team.
That, in turn, raises some serious questions about Kentucky’s ability to make another deep NCAA Tournament run this year despite their exciting 72-69 opening night win over Maryland at the Barclays Center.
With starting point guard Ryan Harrow battling the flu, the hero of the game for Kentucky was Jarrod Polson, a 6-foot-2 former walk-on who had a brilliant and inspiring game with 10 points, 3 assists and 0 turnovers, scoring six points in the final five minutes.
“We’re gonna be fine,” Calipari said afterward when asked about his point guard situation. “Ryan has all my confidence. He’s been sick, he had the flu. He wasn’t quite into it, but he’ll be fine.
“And the second thing is, you got Archie [Goodwin] who could play point. So if I needed to, I could move Ryan to two. We’ll be fine.”
Goodwin is a natural shooting guard who finished with 16 points on 3-for-8 shooting, but did run the point at times.
Still, with Harrow limited to just 10 minutes (0-for-4, 0 points, 2 assists), Polson was thrust into a big spot and came up big.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said when Polson checked into the game, his immediate reaction was, “Who’s that?”
Polson played great down the stretch, including ripping the ball out of Nick Faust’s hands and scoring under Charles Mitchell for two points to push the lead to 67-63.
“He was the whole key to the game,” Turgeon said. “He made the play of the game on the rebound and hit the two free throws [at the end].”
Polson ended up being Kentucky’s third-leading scorer and leading assist man.
Pretty good for a guy who is the farthest thing from a big name that you can think of at a program known for one-and-dones.
“I was just waiting on the opportunity and Ryan had been sick a little bit this week so I knew I might get the opportunity,” Polson said. “So just focusing on in practice and just trying to run the offense as best as I could and that’s just what I was trying to do….I’ll be honest, I mean I was nervous. But at the same time it was good to get out there and play again. It was definitely a lot of fun for me out there tonight.”
He added: “Coach Cal always wants his point guards to play with hustle and just try to be distracting on defense and stuff like that. Obviously, I’m not one of the most talented guys out there on the court, so I knew I had to do different things and that was a lot of defense and hustle so that’s what I tried to do.”
Calipari knows Polson is a feel-good story and he’s happy for what he accomplished.
*I’m proud of Jarrod,” he said. “Jarrod is one of those guys who comes every day, does the things he can do. Doesn’t try to do more. Just performs. He was outstanding.”
Calipari knows how to coach them up, and you’ve got to figure he will get the most out of his players going forward.
But basketball, especially college basketball, is a guards’ game and you just have to wonder how much he can squeeze out of his point guard this year.
It’s the most important position on the floor and while Harrow may turn out to be a competent, solid player, he’s a long, long ways from a Rose or a Wall or even a Teague.
In the meantime, Jarrod Polson, a former walk-on, was Kentucky’s hero on opening night of a new college basketball season.
Photo: US Presswire