Skip to content

Jarrod Polson, victory formations, and one walk-on’s unforgettable night

Nov 10, 2012, 1:25 AM EDT

Barclays Center Classic - Kentucky v Maryland Getty Images

NEW YORK – Anyone who watches football at any level knows what the ‘Victory Formation’ is.

When the game is out of reach and the final minutes and seconds simply need to be bled off the clock, the winning team surrounds the quarterback while sticking one player — a safety valve, if you will — a good ten or twelve yards behind the line of scrimmage, immediately kneeling the ball when it is snapped. When you see that formation, it’s a sign: the clock may still be ticking, but the fat lady’s vocal chords are all warmed up and ready to go and the traffic jam outside the stadium is already going to cost you 45 minutes of travel time.

College basketball has its own version of the ‘Victory Formation’; the walk-ons. When a game is all-but over, when one team is up 20 with a minute and a half left, the winning coach will empty his bench, giving his walk-ons — the guys that pay their own way to school to simply for the right to get worked over every day in practice by the scholarship players — a chance to hoist a few shots in front of their fans. These guys usually end up being some of the most popular players on the team, with students sections across the country chanting their name, calling for the signal that the win is in the books.

Jarrod Polson was that guy for Kentucky the last two seasons. The Nicholasville, KY, native only got a walk-on offer from the Wildcats because Elisha Justice opted to go to Louisville. He accepted because, well, what do you really expect a Kentucky kid to do when his other offer was for an NAIA school in Ohio? And while Polson has since earned his way into one of Coach Cal’s leftover scholarships, the junior point guard entered the 2012-2013 season having played 28 games and a grand total of 62 minutes, and not a meaningful minute among them.

But the story changed on Friday night at the Barclays Center.

The ‘Victory Formation’ became the difference-maker.

——————————————————————————————

“Absolutely zero went into thinking about him before the game,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said after his Terrapins suffered a 72-69 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats. “When he subbed a the scorer’s table, I said, ‘Who is that?’”

That’s how well-known Polson was entering Friday night. The opposing head coach didn’t even bother including him on the scouting report, which is more telling than you probably realize because head coaches are usually exhaustively thorough when it comes to putting together their scouting reports.

Why?

Because they don’t want to run into a situation where they get surprised by someone coming off the bench. They don’t want to lose a game because they glossed over the 11th man or because a player they didn’t realize was a shooter hit four threes. The thinking goes, ‘you can never be too prepared’, and on Friday, Maryland wasn’t prepared.

Polson’s stat-line is decent enough — 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the floor, three assists to no turnovers and a pair of free throws in 22 minutes. But those numbers don’t begin to quantify the impact that the former walk-on had on the outcome of the game. He stabilized Kentucky at the point guard spot, as Ryan Harrow was battling the flu and Julius Mays was dealing with a leg injury he suffered this week, getting the team into their sets and protecting the ball against the Maryland pressure.

More importantly, however, he came in and provided Kentucky with a measure of hustle and grit. He tipped in a missed layup by Nerlens Noel with five minutes left to give Kentucky a 63-62 lead. A little more than a minute later, he ripped a rebound away from Pe’Shon Howard and finished a reverse layup around Charles Mitchell the put Kentucky up 67-63. And with Kentucky up just 70-69 with eight seconds left after yet another offensive rebound for Maryland (they finished with 28) led to a layup from Alex Len, Polson stepped to the line and calmly sunk two free throws to put the Wildcats up three and force Howard to hunt for a three on the final possession of the game; Howard never ended up getting a shot off.

All this came in front of a packed house at the Barclays Center.

In a game played on ESPN.

On College Hoops’ opening night.

In front of one of the wildest atmospheres you’ll see in a November college basketball game.

“He was the whole key to the game,” Turgeon said. “He gave them confidence.”

“I’ll be honest, I was nervous,” Polson said in his first-ever postgame press conference. “At the same time it was good to get out there and play. It was definitely a lot of fun for me tonight.”

I bet it was.

This story, at face value, is terrific and the kind of thing a movie script can be based on. Polson, a former walk-on, takes center-stage for a team and a program known for churning out lottery picks, particularly at his position. A dream come true, right? Someone get Disney on the phone.

But the story carries with it so much more significance. Kentucky is not deep in their back court. At all. It’s Harrow, and out-of-position Mays and Archie Goodwin, and Polson. And what Polson proved tonight was that if he gets called upon, be it because Harrow is in foul trouble or injured or simply playing poorly, he’s more than capable of stepping in and running this team.

He proved to everyone that Kentucky can win when he’s running the show. He made the most of his opportunity, and he likely played his way into the Kentucky rotation. I doubt Cal will hesitate to call on Polson when he’s needed.

“He was ready for his opportunity, and as a coach, there is nothing that makes me happier,” Calipari said after the game. “The whole team was hugging him in there. I’m proud of Jarrod. Jarrod’s someone who comes every day and does the thing that he needs to do. He doesn’t try to do more and that’s what he did tonight. He was just outstanding.”

I doubt there will be anyone that neglects to include him on the scouting report again this season. And that, in-and-of-itself, is an accomplishment.

The ‘Victory Formation’ is now honest-to-god member of Kentucky’s rotation.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Latest Posts
  1. UNLV junior forward Khem Birch to enter 2014 NBA Draft

    Apr 24, 2014, 7:14 PM EDT

    Khem Birch AP

    UNLV junior forward Khem Birch has decided to enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

  2. San Francisco sophomore guard Avry Holmes to transfer

    Apr 24, 2014, 5:56 PM EDT

    WCC Basketball Tournament - Semifinals - San Francisco v Brigham Young Getty Images

    After averaging 12.5 points per game as a sophomore, San Francisco guard Avry Holmes has decided to transfer.

  3. Arizona State lands junior college forward Willie Atwood

    Apr 24, 2014, 4:49 PM EDT

    Herb Sendek AP

    Arizona State lands its seventh newcomer for the 2014-15 season as forward Willie Atwood picked the Sun Devils over Florida State and Iowa.

  4. NCAA waves goodbye to hardship waivers; ‘Big Five’ leagues a step closer to autonomy

    Apr 24, 2014, 4:13 PM EDT

    NCAA_Logo AP

    The NCAA’s Board of Directors released some key decisions on Thursday.

  5. Colorado junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie enters 2014 NBA Draft

    Apr 24, 2014, 4:12 PM EDT

    Spencer Dinwiddie AP

    Colorado junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie has decided to enter the 2014 NBA Draft.

  6. Report: Marshall to hire Dan D’Antoni, brother of Mike D’Antoni

    Apr 24, 2014, 3:12 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Dan D’Antoni spent 30 years as a high school coach in South Carolina.

  7. Jabari Parker on a potential move to two-and-done: ‘I think that’s ridiculous’

    Apr 24, 2014, 2:23 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Parker is not a fan of forcing players to stay in school for two years.

  8. Larry Eustachy: ‘My feeling is Chane is going to go pro’

    Apr 24, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT

    Larry Eustachy

    There are reports he’s already signed with an agent.

  9. Amida Brimah out four-to-five months with shoulder surgery

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:35 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    The seven-footer will miss some time getting a torn labrum repaired.

  10. Skal Labissiere is back from his back injury (VIDEO)

    Apr 24, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT

    Skal Labissiere, Denio Chirindja

    Kentucky, Kansas and just about every elite program in the country is on the trail of the Haitian.

  11. Former Georgetown forward Moses Ayegba will transfer to Nebraska

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:57 AM EDT

    Moses Ayegba AP

    According to multiple reports, former Georgetown big Moses Ayegba has decided to transfer to Nebraska.

  12. UConn center Amida Brimah to undergo shoulder surgery

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:17 AM EDT

    NCAA Men's Final Four - Championship Getty Images

    According to a report, UConn center Amida Brimah will need to undergo surgery on his left shoulder.

  13. Shaka Smart adds former Vanderbilt assistant David Cason to VCU coaching staff

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:38 PM EDT

    Shaka Smart Getty Images

    Shaka Smart filled a vacancy on his staff Wednesday, hiring former Vanderbilt assistant David Cason.

  14. Has Top 100 forward Malek Harris committed to Kansas State?

    Apr 23, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT

    Bruce Weber AP

    Less than a week after making an official visit to the school, it was reported that Malek Harris had committed to Kansas State. But that may not be the case.

  15. Tulsa head coach Frank Haith announces coaching staff

    Apr 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT

    Frank Haith AP

    Frank Haith announced his coaching staff Wednesday, with the trio combining to have more than 90 seasons of coaching experience.

  16. Report: UConn, Duke to meet at Izod Center next season

    Apr 23, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    UConn and Duke will reportedly play each other just before Christmas in New Jersey.

  17. DePaul adds junior college guard Darrick Wood

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT

    Oliver Purnell AP

    Former St. John’s commit Darrick Wood verbally committed to attend DePaul on Wednesday.

  18. Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson to return for sophomore season

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT

    Dakari Johnson AP

    After playing well in Kentucky’s run to the national title game, Dakari Johnson has decided to return for his sophomore season.

Featured video

Derrick Gordon says 'Why not me?'