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UK freshman forward Alex Poythress comes across as soft-spoken in interviews, but you would never guess that from his play on the court.
As a senior at Northeast High School in Clarksville, Tenn., Poythress averaged more than 30 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks per game.
In the 2012 McDonald’s All-American Game, Poythress led his team with 19 points on 8-12 shooting against some of the best competition in the country.
On Monday, SportingNews named him a second-team Preseason All-American before has he even played in a collegiate game.
While Poythress may be known as a prolific scorer entering college, he is OK with taking a smaller role if needed at UK.
“Really I don’t have to score to contribute to this team,” he said in a preseason interview with KyForward. “We’ve got a lot of great scorers already. I’ll be fine just knuckling down, playing defense to help our team win.”
At six-foot-seven, Poythress presents a matchup problem for opponents.
If UK head coach John Calipari goes with the expected starting five of Poythress, freshman forward Nerlens Noel, sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer, freshman guard Archie Goodwin and sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow, Poythress could be matchup up with small forwards who are considerably smaller than him.
If he plays power forward, he could use his superior athleticism to exploit players who might be bigger but slower.
“There is no four in our league that can guard him off the bounce,” Calipari said of Poythress in a preseason roundtable interview with local media. “They’d have to just back away and hope he’s not making shots.”
His teammates have seen the matchup problems Poythress presents first-hand in summer practices and pickup games.
“He attacks the rim better than anybody I’ve ever seen,” said junior guard Jon Hood, who is the only Wildcat to be on each of Calipari’s first four UK teams.
“Alex is super strong and has got crazy bounce, dunks on anybody,” said freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein.
“With Alex, your question is, OK, how close can we get his motor to Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist)?” Calipari said. “Can we even get him in the same ballpark?”
“We’ve got to get him to understand how hard on every possession you must play,” Calipari added. “When we get him there, he will be scary, but right now we’re going to be behind. That’s just the way it is.”
Poythress acknowledges that his game could use some improving in that area.
“The key for that is really just working hard, working hard all the time, getting in better shape,” he said. “Just playing all-out all the time.”
Kidd-Gilchrist made a name for himself early in his one year at UK by diving for balls, playing with a high intensity and even dragging some of his older teammates along with him.
“Even in games (he) would take over games with the emotion of how he played,” Calipari said of Kidd-Gilchrist when he declared for the NBA draft.
Poythress has talked to Kidd-Gilchrist about improving his own motor.
Kidd-Gilchrist’s advice was simple.
“(He said) just play hard all the time,” Poythress said. “You love this game, so you’ve just got to play your heart out. Play as you won’t play tomorrow, this is your last game.”
If Poythress can keep his intensity high all the time, he should, like Kidd-Gilchrist, be able to affect games without posting eye-popping scoring numbers.
That constant intensity could help scoring too though.
After all, as junior guard Jarrod Polson said, “Alex is a beast.”
In the two weeks before Big Blue Madness, KyForward sports editor Jon Hale will be previewing the 2012-13 UK men’s basketball series with a profile of each of the 12 Wildcats as well as other features to get you ready for the team’s attempt to repeat as National Champions. Previous profiles in the series have focused on Willie Cauley-Stein, Archie Goodwin and Nerlens Noel. Tomorrow’s profile looks at Ryan Harrow.
On the ‘Our Sports’ page, you can also read today’s feature “John Calipari hopes for another balanced scoring attack with new faces on 2012-13 team” and on the KyForward UK Sports Notebook you can see more from the one-on-one interview with Alex Poythress.