Poythress Closer Than Ever to Reaching Potential

Dan McHale has only seen Alex Poythress in person once, but it only took 40 minutes of game action for the Eastern Kentucky head coach to get a pretty good handle on the Kentucky forward.

“He is a pro when he wants to be,” McHale said. “When that motor clicks and when he starts playing at the speed he did tonight, he’s very tough to guard. He’s jumping off trampolines and just finishing in traffic. He’s a special, special player.”

Poythress seemed to have an extra trampoline or two hidden in the Rupp Arena floor on Wednesday night. The senior had one of his best outings in an 88-67 win for UK (8-1), coming up just one point shy of his career high with 21 points and equaling his career best with 13 rebounds in his third-double-double of the season against EKU (7-3).

“Alex played really great,” said Marcus Lee, who had 11 points and eight rebounds in his return from a head injury that caused him to miss most of UK’s loss at UCLA last week. “We have to love the energy he brought, the strength and power that he always has and once we get him to a consistent—once we get him to do that consistently and on a daily basis like he does in practice, then we’ll be great.”

It was inevitable that consistency was going to come up after a game like this one.

Performances like Wednesday’s and ones in which he seems a shell of himself have come in equal measure for the remarkably gifted Poythress. One day, he dazzles. The next, he fades into the background.

Knowing questions along those lines were coming, John Calipari was ready with an answer as he held his postgame press conference minutes prior to Poythress' time with the media.

“I don't know,” Calipari said. “You can ask him.”

Coach Cal wanted reporters to save their questions for Poythress because he wanted the Clarksville, Tenn., native to think through his answers and act on them. Calipari wants Poythress to reach for his potential.

“I want the kid to be the best player in the country, that's what I want him to be,” Calipari said. “He's capable of that. Made free throws today, he just stopped on one rebound and he brought it down his old self and he lost it. And then on one defensive play, he knew he stopped and the guy drove for a layup and he knew it. I mean, he eliminates those two, missed a couple shots, but a near-perfect game.”

Poythress, however, knows perfect games don’t happen. That’s why he’s working toward something more attainable.

“I’m just trying to play hard every time I’m out there,” Poythress said. “Just trying to give 100 percent out there, try to bring energy, try to play the best I can.”

He might not be there just yet, but Poythress is closer than he’s ever been. The numbers prove it.

Through the first 84 games of his college career, Poythress had two double-doubles. In his last six games, he has three, the last and most impressive coming as UK bounced back from its first defeat of the season.

Poythress credits his emergence in part to having to battle back from the torn ACL that forced him to miss UK’s final 29 games of 2014-15 and – just as importantly – the recovery process that followed.

“I’ve been through everything,” Poythress said. “I’ve been through a rough year; I’ve been through an ACL injury. A lot of things don’t faze me. I know how to get through adversity. I’m just trying to keep on pushing.”

His teammates are going to do the same.

“We don’t lowball anything here,” Lee said. “So if he wants to get 21 and 13 one time, we’re going to make him do it over and over. That’s what you’re supposed to do at Kentucky. We know that he’s able to do it; he knows he’s able to do it.”