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Kentucky Basketball: The Alex Poythress Project

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Kentucky coach John Calipari has an important project for the new year - helping Alex Poythress reinvent himself.

AMBER alert:  Alex Poythress missing since the Duke game.
AMBER alert: Alex Poythress missing since the Duke game.
Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

When Kentucky signs these five-star high school All-Americans, many in the Big Blue Nation figure these guys should be born ready considering the fact that they've had a basketball in their hands since grade school, play a stupefying number of high school, AAU and all-star games before ever getting to college, and are hyped to the moon. Then, the reality of the college game sets in, and and suddenly, the Tarzan we saw in high school plays like Jane in college.

So it is with Alex Poythress, the McDonald's All-American out of Clarksville, Tennessee. Poythress has been repeatedly called out by John Calipari for many things, including poor defensive positioning, lack of intensity, and a failure to play hard enough for long enough.

Let's get one thing straight right now -- this isn't a problem with Poythress' desire, or his skills, or really, anything in particular. It is a matter of development, not attitude. By all accounts, Poythress is a serious young man with an intense desire to do well for his team. His problem has been getting a handle on what that entails and his physical development, mainly his endurance, hasn't been as fast as others.

Players have to learn how to play through fatigue and still be effective. That's not just a function of desire,although desire is a big component of it. It is also a function of conditioning and understanding that you can do it despite what your body tells you. Learning to properly interpret your body and master it's wiles is one of the biggest challenges a college player has to face when transitioning from high school.

Let's take a look at good Alex:

Did you see that? Do you remember that? Many in the Big Blue Nation don't, because we haven't seen in in a long time. This was an Alex Poythress that we have not really seen since, so the memory of this performance has faded, been largely forgotten, and replaced with commentary, like this, from me (among others):

I hated Alex Poythress in this game, and so did Calipari. He logged only 15 minutes. He just doesn't get it yet.

Now, for Poythress' line against Louisville:

Name Min ORtg %Ps Pts 2PM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OR DR A TO Blk Stl PF
Ryan Harrow 39 123 22 17 5-14 1-1 4-6 3 2 3 0 0 2 4
Archie Goodwin 36 111 30 22 5-10 3-5 3-4 0 5 2 5 0 1 3
Julius Mays 35 56 13 3 0-2 1-6 0-0 1 2 2 2 0 0 3
Nerlens Noel 31 119 14 8 4-5 0-0 0-1 3 5 0 2 2 2 4
Willie Cauley-Stein 23 130 17 6 3-4 0-0 0-4 4 4 2 0 3 0 4
Kyle Wiltjer 19 137 28 14 0-0 4-7 2-2 0 3 1 3 0 0 1
Alex Poythress 15 86 30 7 1-2 1-2 2-6 1 4 0 2 0 0 2
Jarrod Polson 2

0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0

Not impressive for your starting 5-star MickyD power forward.

Never fear, though. Coach Cal is on the case:

"After today’s practice I told [Poythress], ‘I’m proud of you,’ " Calipari said. "You can’t break down when you just feel that you’re tired. So anytime he breaks down, he has to go again. … He was way better today than he was yesterday. It wasn’t close."

Calipari has begun the Alex Poythress Project, and given his obvious success with the rebuilding of Ryan Harrow, I like the odds that Poythress will very soon become the beast that he was against Duke. It is critically important for the success of this year's team that the Alex Poythress Project is completed, and the sooner, the better.