Poythress Takes ‘His Own Path’ to Senior Day

On one hand, Alex Poythress feels like his freshman year was “yesterday.”

“It’s blown by fast,” Poythress said. “One day you’re stepping on campus, and then the next day it’s Senior Night. It’s gone real fast.”

On the other, Senior Day – which will be celebrated before Kentucky’s game against LSU on Saturday – feels like the end of lengthy journey.

“It’s been a long ride,” Poythress said. “I’m just thankful to be playing the game, and just humbled to be in this situation.”

That’s spoken like a player with a keen awareness that playing the game is guaranteed to no one. Unfortunately for Poythress, that awareness has come the hard way.

“Proud of Alex,” John Calipari said. “He’s such a great kid. The injuries and the things he’s had to overcome, you just root for a kid like that.”

Poythress stepped on UK’s campus a highly touted freshman, seemingly destined to follow in the footsteps of similarly highly regarded Calipari pupils who headed to the NBA after one successful season. His career started out trending in that direction, with four 20-point performances in his first five college outings.

Things changed though, as UK fell short of the NCAA Tournament and Poythress had a solid but not dominant season, due in part to a lack of consistent play on the perimeter. At the end of the year, Poythress elected to return to school.

“We’ve had players that have left after a year, we’ve had players leave after two, we’ve had players stay all four,” Calipari said. “Each guy is on his own path. Some things that make that happen. I’ll give you an example, if you said to Alex ‘would you have left after a year if you could?’ He would’ve said ‘Yeah, I would have left after a year if I could. These kids are all on different paths.”

Poythress made the same decision after a sophomore year that ended in the national championship game. He then had his hand forced by a season-ending knee injury suffered as a junior.

“Every year you have to make a decision whether you stay or go,” Poythress said. “Decisions are made, I’m content with them. I feel like I made them for the best reasons, and I’m just moving on from there.”

Whether it was in his original plans or not to be in Lexington for four years is irrelevant, mostly because Poythress has made the best of his time as a Wildcat. He went through the pain of a disappointing freshman season only to experience the highs of back-to-back Final Four trips. He still counts Aaron Harrison’s game-winning 3 against Wisconsin as his favorite moment.

“Because he had just hit one the game before and hit it again,” Poythress said. “Emotions, you know? Then we get to play in the national title game. Just making all your dreams come true, like what you dream of when you’re a little kid. You always dream of playing for a title and we had a chance to do that that year.”

Poythress has also been a standout in the classroom, earning his way onto the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll every year since his arrival. That work got him his college degree after his junior year and placed him on the Academic All-America Second Team this week.

“We’ve had three kids graduate in three years, Alex being one of them,” Calipari said. “He was an Academic All American this year so there’s a lot of good stuff that’s happened for him.”

Along the way, he’s dealt with injuries major and minor, most recently a tweaked knee that kept him out of five games in February. Though sidelined for a crucial portion of his senior season, Poythress was never downcast.

“If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that you can’t get down on things,” Poythress said. “Things happen for a reason, you just have to move on with them and just fight through adversity. Everybody gets hit with adversity in life every day. You just have to learn to deal with things like that.”

Poythress did deal with it and now has returned to the starting lineup for Kentucky’s last two games. He posted a double-double – his fourth of the season – in a win over Florida on Tuesday, positioning UK to play for at least a share of the SEC title in a rematch with LSU on Senior Day.

“That’s definitely a goal,” Poythress said.

Poythress has already carved out a legacy for himself in his four years, but the final chapter is yet unwritten. He has an ending in mind.

“Our ultimate goal is still to win a national championship, and that’s what we’re chasing here,” Poythress said. “We’re chasing titles. We’re still working on our goal toward the end of the year to come out on top.”