LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) — I need to write a correction.
On Monday night, as I usually do, I appeared on Lachlan McLean's SportsTalk 84 radio program on WHAS in Louisville, and he asked me a question I didn't expect, about Senior Night at the University of Kentucky, and would I rather sit the bench somewhere like UK or go to a school where I could actually play? I answered as best I could that, yes, it is important to play, but maybe for some people the experience would be more important. I don't even remember half of what I said. Lachlan said he didn't understand sitting on a bench somewhere for the majority of a career.
We moved on to other topics and I didn't really think about the discussion again until today, on the drive to Rupp Arena for the Wildcats' Senior Night game with Alabama. That's when I thought back to my high school self, remembered my youthful love of the game, and realized I'd given an incorrect answer.
The correct response to the question of would I have sat the bench four years at UK, in the words of one of my old professors, isn't yes.
It's hell, yes.
Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson opened their final game in Rupp Arena with three-pointers, one from each, to put Kentucky up 6-0. The Wildcats won 55-48. Neither would score again, after starting the game. Polson played 19 minutes in the game. Hood played six.
Somebody asked Polson if that's how UK coach Jon Calipari planned it.
"I don't think that's how he planned it," Polson said. "But that's how we planned it. We talked about it during the day, how that would be great to start that way. Jon said he was going to get up 15 shots in the first three minutes. I think he almost got there. I was so thrilled when his shot went in. Nobody knows how hard he's worked. He deserved it."
They both deserved it.
Polson and Hood are more important than they may realize. For starters, they may be the last four-year seniors UK produces for a while. Sam Malone, a walk-on who was awarded a scholarship, is the only junior on the roster. Nobody really expects Alex Poythress or Willie Cauley-Stein to be around for two more years. College basketball's most tradition-rich address has become an itinerant stop. That's not a judgment, just a statement.
Polson and Hood were, for their part, old-school reminders.
They also meant something more.
I always said, when Bill Keightley was equipment manager at UK, the fans had a seat on the bench. There was someone who was living their dream, who was around the players, who heard the coach's conversations on the bus and could lend a pat on the back to a struggling player when they couldn't.
Bill is gone.
Somehow, I think the affection Big Blue Nation had for him gets transferred to guys like Polson and Hood, Dominique Hawkins or Derek Willis. They are living the dream of kids around the state shooting hoops in their driveways.
Jon Hood has played, Calipari estimated, with more NBA Draft picks than any other college player. He has seen one of the most historic periods in the life of college basketball's most historic program, along with Polson. They were there for the NCAA championship, rode in the parade, practiced with the team, played some, and were celebrated every time they walked into that cavernous arena.
"So many cool blessings," Polson said.
Hood was asked on Tuesday to name an All-Star team of his five best teammates. His first question was, "Can I put myself in there?" He said playing with his freshman class of John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Daniel Orton was the most fun he's ever had in the game.
Polson saw more playing time than Hood. He stepped in last season when Ryan Harrow struggled. He probably should've seen more playing time than he did. He had chances to transfer elsewhere. Quiet inquiries were made about him by different schools. He wasn't interested.
"I'm a Kentucky player," Polson said. "How many people get to say that? How many people would give anything they had for this opportunity?"
That's a better answer than I gave on the radio.
The program, right now, is not about these kinds of players. But it needs them. It's not always about the numbers. Most college players can't rattle off their statistics ten years out. But they can tell you what happened on the plane rides and in the locker rooms. They can tell you about their coaches. They can tell you about their teammates.
And these two Kentucky kids will always be able to tell you how their last game in Rupp Arena started, a pair of three pointers banging home, the crowd roaring.