Kentucky Wildcats Basketball: Alex Poythress Is the Key to NCAA Tournament Hopes

Mike LeeContributor IIIJanuary 25, 2013

Alex Poythress (22) could be the key for Kentucky if it hopes to make the NCAA Tournament this year.
Alex Poythress (22) could be the key for Kentucky if it hopes to make the NCAA Tournament this year.USA TODAY Sports Images

Alex Poythress came to the University of Kentucky this year as a highly decorated 6’7”, 240-pound forward from Clarksville, Tennessee. Three months into his freshman season, Poythress stands as the key to the Wildcats' potential regular-season turnaround.

During his high school career, many awards were heaped upon his broad shoulders, including Mr. Basketball in Tennessee, Gatorade State Player of the Year and Parade and McDonald’s All-American honors. Now, on those same shoulders, Poythress is carrying the weight of big expectations for a Kentucky team that is now in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament.

Despite his physical stature, Alex Poythress is a soft-spoken, mild-mannered person. The problem for him this year has been that his off-court, mild-mannered personality has become too prevalent on the court. Poythress is a skilled and extremely talented basketball player, but he is too willing to disappear in games at times.

The young freshman forward began the season with a bang. In four of the team’s first five games, Poythress scored more than 20 points. In those games, he averaged 18.4 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. However, in the 13 games since, Poythress has not reached the 20-point mark and has only averaged 10.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Even Poythress’ teammates have acknowledged how vital his talent and potential are to their success. In a recent article in the Courier-Journal, teammate Willie Cauley-Stein stated that, “We have all seen the beastly Alex, and we want him to come out of the shell that he’s in and play like he knows how.”

Coach John Calipari has begun to work with Poythress privately after practices in order to help build up his energy, effort and, most importantly, his confidence. Coach Calipari has seen the potential in Poythress from the beginning and said this about him on the Kentucky men's basketball website:

Alex is a prolific scorer with a multi-dimensional game. He's big enough that he can take smaller players down low and create problems, but he's too quick and too athletic for your typical forward to play him straight up. Alex has the potential to be a special player.

Poythress is averaging 12.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on the season. Those numbers are solid for a freshman, but they do not tell the entire story of Poythress’ potential.

As a freshman, he is one of the most efficient players in the country. He is currently 12th in the nation in true shooting percentage at 68.5 percent, a percentage that measures shooting efficiency by taking into account field goals, three-point field goals and free throws.

On many NBA draft websites, Poythress is projected to be a lottery pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, if he decides to declare. However, Kentucky needs Poythress to realize his potential now if the team hopes to make this year’s NCAA Tournament.

In that same Courier-Journal article, point guard Ryan Harrow summed it all up with this comment:

Alex could be the best player in college basketball, because he has the physical attributes; he’s skilled. He could just be a beast, but he’s holding himself back. It’s just a mental thing with him. He has to believe it. We can’t believe it for him.

If Poythress does develop into the type of player whom his coaches, his teammates, Kentucky basketball fans and draft experts believe that he can be, Kentucky could begin to turn its season around and make a solid run into the NCAA Tournament.