Alex Poythress‘ first season in Lexington, Ky., was meant to be full of promise. He was yet another 5-star recruit with an NBA-ready body. He was known in the high school ranks for his prolific scoring and was once projected as the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft by ESPN’s Chad Ford. Kentucky was supposed to be a one-year stop where he would achieve his ultimate dream. That promise, and those dreams, all took a sudden stop when Poythress began to mentally check out of games and failed to produce at a high level.
Instead of getting another dynamite player, Kentucky head coach John Calipari got a dud in Poythress last season. Poythress burst onto the college basketball scene by scoring 20 or more points in four of his first five games. When the Wildcats went on the road to face a senior-laden Notre Dame squad, the sparks began to fizzle. Poythress only managed three points in the blowout loss and would only score more than 20 points twice throughout the remainder of the year. Kentucky’s passionate, educated fan base was puzzled and distraught with what they were seeing. Before them stood a 6-foot-7 athlete with all the tools to be their next heralded star. Instead, his shortcomings left them scratching their heads.
If you think the fans were confused, how do you think coach Calipari was feeling? He had to have pressed every button and tried every trick in the book to get more out of Poythress and his struggling team as a whole. Calipari called out Poythress through the media for not playing hard enough, smart enough or tough enough. Poythress’ reluctant approach at the college game stymied his growth and the ultimate successes of his team. Poythress was Calipari’s best option when he could stay out of foul trouble. Kentucky’s bench was too depleted for Calipari to replace Poythress when he wasn’t producing. In Kentucky’s last five games of the season, Poythress never reached double figures in the scoring column. He is supposed to be this dynamic offensive weapon, but he can’t score more than nine points?
With a brand new season on the horizon, Calipari has brought in a fresh No. 1-ranked recruiting class along with some much needed depth for his bench. What does that mean for Poythress? He’s going to have competition. Calipari has brought in arguably the best recruiting class ever assembled on paper. Julius Randle is the crown jewel of the class, and he is reportedly pushing Poythress around during summer practices. Randle is a power forward, standing at a powerful 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds. When you throw in Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee, who are both 6-foot-10, and James Young, a 6-foot-6 wing player, Poythress has to step up or sit down. If Poythress wants to start, he has to battle those guys every single day, and he has to win his fair share.
Poythress should become a starter for Kentucky in 2013-14 at the small forward spot. Poythress will become a match-up nightmare for the opposition with his size and athleticism. I don’t believe there is another small forward in the country who can match up with Poythress. He is way too fast for a typical center or forward to guard him straight up. He’s also big enough to take advantage of smaller defenders around the rim. If you take away the driving lane, he is a very capable three-point shooter.
If the confidence is there, Poythress will be a force for Kentucky this season. His skill set will be unmatched at his position, and he will have plenty of opportunities if he gains a mean streak from being pushed around by the freshman all summer. The tenacity and assertiveness that was missing from last season will become his biggest asset. Former Kentucky forward Terrence Jones is the last player to return to Kentucky for his sophomore season who has a similar skill set to Poythress. Anyone remember what happened that season? Jones’ improvements spearheaded the Wildcats to their eighth national title. Poythress’ continued development could do the same.