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Polson a model for what Coach Cal wants Cats to be

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Jarrod Polson had three points, three rebounds and two assists in UK's 72-62 win over Auburn on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Jarrod Polson had three points, three rebounds and two assists in UK's 72-62 win over Auburn on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Continuing a recent tradition, John Calipari channeled his inner philosopher as he fielded questions from the media.

Ostensibly, Coach Cal was at the podium to talk basketball. The Wildcats had just won their fifth game in a row - 72-62 in a bruising rematch with Auburn - but he was more interested in talking about the life lessons he's been trying to impart to his players.

"When you make life about everybody else instead of yourself, life becomes easier," Calipari said. "If your whole life is trying to satisfy yourself...life is hard. Every morning you're up and it's anxiety, but if every time you wake up, it's about everybody else in your life, it's not about you, life is easy."

Jarrod Polson is already there, and it shines through on the court.

"Jarrod is just doing whatever the team needs him to do," Calipari said. "Other guys are worried about how they're playing."

According to the box score, Polson played a pedestrian game. In 20 minutes - his most in more than two months - the junior guard managed just three points, three rebounds and two assists. Kyle Wiltjer led the Cats in scoring with 14 points and Nerlens Noel posted his third double-double in a row with 10 points and 12 rebounds, but don't tell Coach Cal either one meant anything more to their team than Polson did, or Willie Cauley-Stein for that matter.

"We're so happy with Jarrod Polson, so happy with Willy Cauley, and it was nothing but energy," Calipari said. "That's all it is. Just come out and ball. Quit worrying about how you're playing for yourself, worry about our team and just bring energy."

Though he was a high-school star at West Jessamine, all Polson has ever done has been to think about the team more than himself. During his first two seasons, his role didn't extend far beyond the bench and the practice gym, where he had the unenviable task of tirelessly dogging future NBA Draft picks as a member of the second unit. Now he's getting the chance to showcase his unselfish approach in meaningful in-game situations.

"(Calipari has) been telling me to bring energy in the games," Polson said. "I've been trying to guard Ryan (Harrow) in practice with that energy and that's helped me. I really just tried to bring energy and that's what he wanted from me."

Polson came to Kentucky knowing nothing more than an opportunity to compete would be guaranteed. He knew his fellow guards would McDonald's All-Americans, which would make it unlikely he would even play himself into a featured role. It took a certain degree of humility to seek out that situation, sending him further along on that path to putting team before self.

His teammates are behind, but not because of warped egos or anything like that. They're just going through a natural process.

"They're not selfish guys - I come back to this," Calipari said. "This isn't selfish; it's human nature to establish yourself first before you worry about anybody else."  

Calipari, however, isn't overlooking the fact that the Cats have made progress, both as team and as individuals. UK is in the middle of its best extended stretch of the season and, sitting at 8-2 in Southeastern Conference play (17-6 overall), is just a game behind first-place Florida with a trip to take on the Gators coming up on Tuesday. Alex Poythress is doing things he's never done before and Wiltjer's evolution over the last month is nothing short of amazing, while Noel is making a case for the title of the nation's best defender.

"Now, we're fine," Calipari said. "We're getting better. Are we getting better? Yeah, we're getting better. We're winning games, we're getting better, all that stuff."

It's just that he wants more.

"But to break through what I want them to feel, joy, the only way you have joy is if it's about everybody else," Calipari said. "You're grateful to them for having your back and you're complimentary all the time to everybody else. You just brought joy to your life."

Until the Cats, to a man, match the team-first mentality of Polson, Calipari isn't going to stop with all the life lesson talk. He's not going to stop because he knows what it will look like if it works.

"We do it, we're going to have some real fun," Calipari said. "We don't do it, every game is going to be a grind. I just hope we still win them anyway. But they'll be grinds."

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