|UK’s Alex Poythress|
By LARRY VAUGHT
After three games freshman forward Alex Poythress is shooting 70 percent from the field and averaging a team-high 16.7 points per game along with 6.7 rebounds. Yet Kentucky coach John Calipari has been far from pleased with his overall play. Calipari says he can’t “get Alex right now to buy into” how hard he has to play every possession.
“He drove baseline and tried to one hand it,” said Calipari after Friday’s win over Lafayette. “They block it, and he jogs back. Later in the game, he did the same thing, and they went up and dunked it. Why? It’s harder to do that.
“Here’s Alex can’t believe it. Nine out of 10 (from the field), four for five from the (foul) line, and I’m all over him. Yeah, because I want him to be the best version of him. Not just play good. You’re better than this. You can do more than this. Why won’t you? It’s hard. I know it’s hard. But you’ve got to get in better shape. You’ve got to force yourself mentally to do these things.”
Freshman Nerlens Noel, the player Calipari says is UK’s “energy guy” this season, is not worried about Poythress. “Throughout the season, I think Alex’ energy will come through. We see spurts of it and when it does come, other teams are not going to like it,” Noel said.
Here is what Poythress had to say about his play and other things after Friday’s win.
Question: Do you even know exactly what it feels like to be in the zone that Calipari wants you to play in?
Poythress: “I am just be too focused in the game trying to make the right plays. I don’t even pay much attention to the score when I am out there.”
Question: Did Calipari really threaten to make the team run during practice Wednesday every time it didn’t get the ball past midcourt in two seconds after grabbing a rebound?
Poythress: “We ran a couple of times. Everybody was trying to sprint for their lives during that. We made it. Sometimes we slip up and forget about it. But that’s just common nature. We are getting use to it and sprinting down the court. If not, we run. He is just making us better.”
Question: How good is Calipari at pushing individual players to make you improve?
Poythress: “He is good at pushing everybody at practice. He just more in you. He is going to pull it out whether you do it yourself or he has to do it. He is so great at that.”
Question: Does is surprise you that you have gone 18-for-22 from the field in the last two games yet Calipari is not happy with your performance?
Poythress: “He just expects more out of me. He sees more in me, so I am just trying to play hard. Him pushing me just means he sees more out of me and thinks I can be better. I agree.”
Question: Has he been harder on you than anticipated or do you come here to have him push you like this?
Poythress: “This is what you expect when you come to Kentucky. You want to be coached hard every day in practice. You want to be playing to the best you can. So if he sees more in you, he’s going to pull it out. You have to be willing to sacrifice things. It is not going to be easy, and it isn’t. You have to work hard every day and work hard on your own. Even the off days we are trying to get in the gym and doing a little workout. Really there are no days off. We are just trying to grind hard every day.”
Question: Is this team close to even scratching the surface of its potential?
Poythress: “I think we can get a lot better honestly. We have so many more ways to improve. I think there are even areas of the game today that we could have improved on. But we are making strides and getting better as a unit.”
Question: Did you pay any attention to how coach Calipari seemed to stay on Terrence Jones much the same way the last two years even after he had what seemed like really good games?
Poythress: “I really didn’t notice it, but that is something the (assistant) coaches have been telling me. Like Terrence, he sees a lot in you and he is going to get it out. It is a good comparison I think.”
Question: What do you think when you see Kyle Wiltjer shooting like he did in this game?
Poythress: “I think it is going in every time when he shoots it. He is just a great shooter. We just have so much faith in him as our shooter. When we are just shooting around in practice, he makes every shot. He rarely misses. You just have faith in him. And Julius (Mays), too. He doesn’t miss many shots, so we have faith in him, too.”
Question: Does it motivate you to see someone like Nerlens Noel diving on the floor and getting four steals?
Poythress: “It does motivate me. Everybody tries to be the best player you can out there.”
Question: Does Calipari think you are not playing hard enough?
Poythress: “It’s more just play harder and play every possession out all the time. Don’t take plays off. If you are getting hurt out there, tap out and sub yourself back in.”
Question: Have you been taking plays off?
Poythress: “I don’t feel that way, but he (Calipari) does. He is the coach, so I am just trying to listen to him and make better effort out there. I know I am in the wrong at times and he is just helping me point that out. I am just taking that in and all the constructive criticism.”
Question: Don’t you consider yourself an energy player?
Poythress: “I just try to play hard. When I am not, he sees it. I am just trying to play my best. He thinks I should be doing a lot better out there than I am.”
Question: What about guard Julius Mays have 10 assists and no turnovers in 32 minutes?
Poythress: “That is ridiculous. He played a great game.”