By David Schuh
It’s about time.
After 14 months of ups and downs, brilliance and apathy, UK sophomore forward Alex Poythress has arrived. And not a moment too soon.
Poythress has never been consistent. He had shown his best before, but he’d show his worst the following week.
Last November, he had four straight games with at least 20 points. He had two such games the rest of the season.
The problem was Poythress had to find his role. He isn’t an elite scorer, a lockdown defender or even a high-volume rebounder. He does a lot of things fairly well, and had to find out how to make that fit a team filled with future pros.
Head coach John Calipari entered this season with optimism for his returning forward — Poythress was talking more, communicating with his teammates and taking responsibility for his shortcomings.
But it was still a process. He had to find himself in a convoluted roster of equally-hyped high school stars.
Last year, Poythress probably belonged somewhere else. He was not ready for UK, and Calipari needed all he had every minute of every game.
That’s not him.
So Poythress took a step back this year. He stopped trying to do too much. Instead, he focused on his rebounding and finishing around the rim.
He sustained his effort — playing fewer minutes and making the most of his possessions.
It’s never been about the physical attributes for Poythress. It’s a mentality.
As a result, he’s a vital part of this team.
“Mentally, Alex thinks he’s going to kill you. So he will,” Calipari said. “Last year, that’s not how Alex was thinking.”
He’s a pleasure to watch. He parlays an explosive first step with a grace and touch that seem so easily powerful.
It showed in a huge sequence for the Cats against Texas A&M on Tuesday. After A&M had cut the lead to four early in the second half, the sophomore forward took over.
A block, three-point play, four free throws and a mammoth dunk later, Poythress had gone on a personal 9-0 run.
He made the most of his minutes. He did his job, and the game was broken open.
The thing about Poythress is that on a stat sheet, he’s never the most impressive player. But so often, he’s an invaluable piece.
The 16 points were nice against A&M. The five rebounds, too. But in a 17-point win, they weren’t imperative.
His presence was. For the first time in Poythress’ career, he is a consistent player giving sustained effort each and every game.
On Tuesday night, he made a statement. There are no more ups and downs. The real Alex Poythress is here to stay.