Foreword: The following article, I wrote back in early June. It was just before the NBA draft and in the middle of a chaotic spring recruitment period. In the midst off all the uncertainty, there was one person who, in my mind, gave stability to the program. I could think of this guy when doubt and anxiety became a little too much for this die-hard fan, and he would center me. That guy was Alex Poythress. I knew then that he was going to be instrumental in the success of the 2015-2016 Wildcats, but just how much was even a mystery to me. Now, nine games in, we know this season hinges on Alex… and as you will read further on, it is evident that this man has the goods. I decided to throwback this piece because, after Poythress’ monster game against EKU, this little, old article seemed almost prophetic in a sense. Enjoy. Go Cats!
12.8 percent. That’s the field goal percentage that Alex Poythress allowed the guy he defended in the last 20 games he played (before this season started). 12.8 percent. In the spring recruiting period that could be best described as a dysfunctional circus, the Big Blue Nation seems to have selective amnesia. We have forgotten that our returning Junior, Marcus Lee, still has springs in his feet. We have forgotten our sophomore floor general, Tyler Ulis, who works the point like he is the President of “Point Guard U.” We have forgotten the passion and heart of, our hometown boy, Dominique Hawkins. And, maybe most importantly, we have forgotten the glue of our team; the dude who allowed his opponent to shoot 12.8 percent in his last 20 games; the guy who makes a habit out of posterizing grown men; the veteran leader of this squad. We’ve forgotten about Alex Poythress.
With a roster as deep as our 2015 team was, complete with “platoons,” it was impossible to imagine that Poy’s ACL tear would directly affect UK’s chances at a title, but it did. With a bench eight players deep, and a potential draft class at seven or better, there was simply no way for us to process the idea that one guy going down would so severely damage our title run… but it did. If Alex was on the court, he would have owned Dekker and stopped the unrelenting switches on Booker. If that happened, we would have won the game and made history. We would have went 40-0 in the best way possible; killing our arch nemesis for the National Championship. The three shot clock violations would not have been a factor. There would have been no crying in the locker room. There would have been no discussion over whether we had a disappointing season or not.
Sure, that’s the past and we need to move forward, but I said all that to say this; that is precisely just how important Alex Poythress is. Much like how Cauley-Stein completely changed the way the opponent played by simply stepping foot on the court, as much can be said of Poythress. He is a defensive machine who is always solid and dependable, but you never quite know that a stroke of basketball genius has hit him until he embarrasses a poor, unsuspecting defender or blocks an unblockable shot into a photographer’s face. We’ve seen him pull down a whopping 12 rebounds vs. Florida. He is the first player to score four straight 20+ point games since Meeks in ’09 and he was the first freshmen to do it since Anderson in ’79. Point blank: he is a threat. A major, unpredictable, “nail in the coffin” kind of threat that I would not want on any other team.
Even in his injury, he was a driving force behind each win. If they could not win the game with Alex, they were going to win it for him. He also gained valuable insight into coaching and became a “player coach” of sorts. He watched one of the greatest teams to play college basketball from the sidelines. He saw–with periphery–what exactly makes a great team tick. He witnessed the results of individual players playing their best.
Actually, Alex may be the most well-rounded player because of the roller coaster he’s been on at Kentucky. His career has been a full of unpredictability, but with his senior season on the horizon, it all may be just a blessing in disguise. He statistically played his best basketball as a freshmen only for that year to end abysmally. In his sophomore season, he learned what it takes to be truly great. Throughout his junior year, he set most of it on the sidelines gaining invaluable insight and leadership ability. Now, here on the brink of his senior season, he has the opportunity to (as Karl Anthony Towns would say) be the best version of himself.
He may not sit at the tip-top of everyone’s watch list, but I’m telling you now, DO NOT sleep on Alex Poythress. He has all the pieces to absolutely own the hardwood come fall. Rupp Arena can be his stage and he can be the star of an epic show.
It’s all in Alex’s hands, but I can see this being a tale we tell our children and grandchildren. It could read, “In a time when Kentucky didn’t graduate NBA talent, there was once was a kid who didn’t quite fit the mold…” It could go to tell of his determination and “never quit” attitude. It could list all the individual awards he would eventually receive, but was never considered a contender for originally. It could be littered with quotes of his teammates saying how he was the leader they needed, the glue that kept the team together, and the oil that kept them running smooth. It could include all the memories of him being the coolest cat who ever lived when it was crunch time. And maybe, most of all, it could conclude with all the times that he posterized men and completely switched the momentum of the games in our favor; and that’s when all of us Kentucky fans would jump up out of our seats and yell out, “Mama, there goes that man!”