Poythress Taking Steps toward Being 'Beast' Cal Demands

Alex Poythress, a couple weeks into the season, has settled into a role as Kentucky’s sixth man.

He comes off the bench to provide a boost and ends up playing the minutes of a starter, but his first foray on Tuesday night lasted all of 26 seconds.

John Calipari isn’t afraid to show a quick hook to his senior forward.

“He didn't go after a ball,” Coach Cal said. “Athletically, you're an athlete, explode and go get balls, even if it's on the floor. And he stood there and watched it. Boom, you're out.”

Poythress might be working his way back from a torn ACL that ended his 2014-15 season in December, but that doesn’t make him immune from criticism. In fact, Poythress probably draws Cal’s ire as often and intensely as anybody.

He understands why.

“If he’s not yelling at you he doesn’t really care about you,” Poythress said. “He expects the best. He doesn’t settle for less. It’s what we’re trying to do.”

Poythress was a lot closer to his best when he checked back in after his initial departure. For the second straight game Poythress posted a double-double, accounting for half his career total. His 14 points and 10 rebounds included five dunks, four of which came in less than six minutes as UK stretched a single-digit lead midway through the second half out to an 82-62 win over visiting Boston University.

“I just took what the defense gave me and just tried to drive to the basket and just elevate over defenders,” Poythress said.

Poythress, perhaps because he’s done it so many times, describes his own highlight-reel plays in humble terms. His teammates see him for what he really is.

“He played like a beast,” said Skal Labissiere, who had a game-high 16 points. “He’s a great athlete. He had the double-double I think. So yeah, he did what Alex does. We’re going to need him to do that for the whole year for us and I think that’s what’s going to make the difference for us.”

Labissiere senses what Coach Cal already knows: that Poythress’ play could be what decides this team’s ultimate fate.

Sure, UK’s gifted trio of starting guards will get the headlines with their scoring and command of UK’s offense. Of course, Labissiere will be the subject of No. 1 NBA Draft pick talk with his offensive skill and improving defense. But for the Wildcats to reach their potential, they need their beast.

No one, you see, can do what Poythress can.

“I told the team after, I'm not going to accept anything other than an elite athlete when I watch him play,” Calipari said. “If he's not an elite athlete, he's out. He's not playing. Because he's capable of doing it. It's just really hard. And it's having to have him break through some confidence in his body.”

Poythress says that confidence is coming along.

“I mean, it’s getting better each and every day,” Poythress said. “So I’m just taking it day by day.”

And with Coach Cal in charge of substitutions, Poythress is better off taking it second by second. The good news for him is there’s no mystery about what he needs to do to stay in the game next time.

“He’s just looking for energy,” Poythress said. “He’s looking for energy from all the players. It doesn’t matter if you start or not. You bring energy, you play.”