By LARRY VAUGHT
There’s one thing that Kentucky senior Julius Mays always wants to see freshman Alex Poythress do more often.
“We are always trying to get him to smile and be excited. He is the only guy I know that will dunk on somebody and just run back down the court with his head down, We try to get a big smile or something out of him. I always want to encourage him to smile more,” said Mays. “He knows I want to see him smile. I want him to show excitement and show that you love playing basketball and not that the world is about to end tomorrow.”
But Mays also understands that Poythress is probably misunderstood by many UK fans who think he is not playing with the passion they want to see.
“That is how he has been since the day I met him and I am sure that is how he has been for his whole life. Now you are asking the kid to change. He’s still 19 years old. He has done it this way for his whole life. That’s all he has ever known. It is going to take time but I think he is starting to show emotion and it will come,” Mays said.
Actually, Poythress is emotional and passionate. He just doesn’t show it the way others might. Just ask his mother, Regina.
“I wish people would realize that everyone displays emotions and feelings in different ways. Just because Alex is not loud does not mean he is not passionate about the game. But the people closes to Alex already know that,” she said.
She basically confirmed what Mays suspected about Poythress merely playing the same way he has his whole life.
“Alex has always been soft spoken, respectful, grateful and confident but that should not be confused a sign of weakness. He has some nasty dunks that could be posterized but he doesn’t do anything to embarrass someone,” Regina Poythress said. “This comes from Alex being humble. He is not weak by no means. What it means it that he is humble, blessed and thankful for the is a position he is in.”
That position has been good. Or very good at times. He’s averaging 14 points and 6.3 rebounds per game going into the Southeastern Conference opener Thursday at Vanderbilt — which his mother will get to see in person since it is close to their home in Clarksville, Tenn. He’s also hitting a team-best 64.2 percent from the field.
“There is always room for improving. I have always been happy to see my son play the game he enjoy,” Regina Poythress said. “Because we realize this is a blessing, Alex has never been concerned about averages. Cal (John Calipari) is the coach and will determine playing time, but I am confident my son wants to continue to improve as a player and be an asset to the team.”
She’s right. Calipari knows that. Teammates know that.
He’s an intelligent, caring player who is not selfish or me-oriented. If anything, he may try to please others too often. Calipari has recently been putting him through individual workouts and says Poythress not only has been receptive to the workouts, but has improved.
“Can you bring something out of a kid that’s not in there? I’ve never settled for that for any young man I’ve ever coached because in my mind, he doesn’t believe it’s in there, and I’ve got to convince him it is,” Calipari said after Wednesday’s win over Eastern Michigan when Poythress had 16 points and five rebounds. “So I told them, I’m not only building their confidence. You know who else’s confidence I’m building? My confidence in them.
“Two days with Alex, I decide to start him (against Eastern Michigan). He was good enough that I looked at him and said I’ve got to start this kid. He’s that good. So he built my confidence in him, and I helped build his confidence. But I even told him, what did I do? I didn’t do anything. You did it. But I’m going to tell you, he’s halfway home. Half the way there to where we need him. So it’s still going to be weeks away. Maybe a month away. If he makes it, I’m okay if it’s a month away.”