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Alex Poythress plans to carry forward lessons learned in up-and-down freshman season

On paper, UK sophomore Alex Poythress posted what most logical assessments would consider a successful debut collegiate season.


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But Poythress faced comparisons to the plethora of freshmen who have starred at UK in the John Calipari Era and frustrated fans and coaches by disappearing for long periods of time after showing glimpses of his immense talent.


“He just wasn’t Anthony Davis,” said UK head coach John Calipari in a roundtable interview with local media in September. “But as far as freshmen go, he was good.”


Poythress averaged 11.2 points and six rebounds as a freshman. He shot 58.1 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range.


Alex Poythress was named to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2013. | File photo by Jon Hale

Alex Poythress was named to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2013. | File photo by Jon Hale

His freshman season started with a bang. After scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds in his debut, Poythress totaled at least 20 points in each of his next four games. He had so much success that by the beginning of December reports began to circulate that NBA teams were considering Poythress as a possible No. 1 selection in the draft following the season.


However, he was rarely able to match his early statistics as the season continued. Poythress reached the 20-point mark twice in his final 26 games, and he reached double figures in points just twice in his final 13 games.


By the end of the season NBA draft projections had Poythress sliding toward the end of the first round. In April, he announced his decision to return to UK for a second season.


“I just didn’t want to make a rash and quick decision,” Poythress said in a one-on-one interview with KyForward. “I just wanted to make sure I talked to my mom and family, Coach Cal and all the coaches to make sure I was making the right decision to come back.”


Poythress watched June’s NBA draft to see where teammates Nerlens Noel and Archie Goodwin were selected, but he could not help but think that he could be waiting to hear his name called.


“Me and Willie (Cauley-Stein) were watching it like, ‘Dang,’ ” he said. “But I feel like I made the right decision at the end of the day.”


Now Poythress returns to UK facing stiff competition for playing time. In his hour-long roundtable interview, Calipari frequently noted that his bench was so shallow during the 2012-13 season that he could not sit players when they were struggling.


With seven former McDonald’s All-Americans on this year’s roster, Calipari should have no trouble finding a productive player on his bench. That competition also figures to increase the intensity levels in practice.


Chatter about the battles between Poythress and freshman forward Julius Randle during summer workouts have already captivated fans.


“The choice is: You embarrass him or he’s embarrassing you,” Calipari said.


Poythress thinks he’s ready to embrace the challenge.


“I’ve never shied away from competition,” he said. “Competition is going to be wherever you go. You’ve got to embrace it.”


Poythress’ abilities have already impressed Randle, who was ranked as the No. 2 recruit in the class of 2013.


“With me and Alex going at each other every day, it’s definitely going to make us get better,” Randle said. “We’re going to compete. When we get on the court, we’re playing for each other. We’re playing against each other all day in practice, but when we get on the court we’re playing for each other. I definitely think it will be a good bond between us.”


Poythress battled a hamstring injury toward the end of the summer that kept him out of workouts, but Calipari said he was already well beyond where he was as a freshman.


Calipari has also noticed a change in Poythress’ mindset and confidence. At times during his freshman season, Poythress appeared to not handle Calipari’s coaching style very well.


Asked for one lesson he learned as a freshman, Poythress doesn’t hesitate, noting you have to fight through adversity.


And is he better prepared to deal with criticism?


“I just really learned that you’ve got to listen to you coach a lot more,” he said. “What he’s saying is right. Just listen to what he says. He’s not just talking to be talking. He actually knows what he’s talking about. Just pay attention. He’s not going to steer you in the wrong direction.”


Poythress doesn’t have to look far for a concrete image of what the right direction looks like. He only has to recall the feeling from the NBA draft in June.


“I use that as motivation,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s the ultimate goal. That’s where you want to be at the end of the day.”




In the weeks leading up to the 2013 UK men’s basketball media day KyForward is previewing the season with a series of stories about the Cats resulting from interviews with players and head coach John Calipari from September. As they publish, you can see all the stories in the series here.

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