Resilient Poythress still focused despite multiple setbacks
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Though injuries and inconsistency have plagued Alex Poythress during his basketball career at Kentucky, he remains undeterred in pursuit of his dreams.
With one national championship appearance under his belt two years ago, focused on trying to earn another, Poythress hopes to be part of some NBA teams' draft plans this summer. He just keeps battling back despite multiple setbacks, including injuries to both knees.
''If I've learned anything in life, it's that you can't get down on things,'' said Poythress, who missed the Wildcats' final 29 games last season after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament. ''Things happen for a reason and you just gotta move along with them and fight through adversity. Everybody gets hit with adversity every day; you just have to learn how to deal with things like that.''
Poythress has returned for the stretch run and hopes to help No. 22 Kentucky (22-8, 12-5 Southeastern Conference) make a deep run in the SEC and NCAA tournaments - and possibly win a national title. And though postseason play is just around the corner, a major challenge awaits him in Saturday's regular season finale against LSU (18-12, 11-6).
Tied with Texas A&M atop the league standings, a win could earn Kentucky at least a share of the regular season championship and maybe the top seed in next week's tournament in Nashville, Tennessee. That has been the Wildcats' goal all season.
Poythress is third on the team in scoring (9.9 points per game) and tied for the lead in rebounds (6.4) despite missing five games. He is coming off a 12-point, 10-rebound effort in Tuesday's road win at Florida and Kentucky needs another big game from Poythress against LSU's heralded freshman Ben Simmons (19.7 points, 11.9 rebounds).
Stringing together good games has been problematic for the athletic 6-foot-8, 230-pound Poythress, who fouled out without scoring in last weekend's loss at Vanderbilt. He also fouled out against the Gators but played 30 minutes, long enough to help Kentucky get a much-needed league win.
Despite Poythress' rollercoaster performances, coach John Calipari appreciates his player's contributions. After all, Poythress stuck around Lexington for four years after arriving with expectations of joining his so-called ''one and done'' teammates in the NBA draft. Playing at the next level is still Poythress' dream, and Calipari believes his senior can help Kentucky's pursuit of a ninth national championship.
''A kid like Alex, some of them are late bloomers,'' the coach said. ''A lot of times, kids his size are bigger and it takes them a little longer. And most of it is learning to fight through. ... He's had a heck of a career on all fronts.''
Poythress has thrived in the classroom, pursuing his master's degree after earning his bachelor's degree in business in three years. On Thursday he was named a second-team Academic All-American by the nation's college sports information directors, the first Kentucky player to earn that recognition since Mark Pope in 1995.
The honor came two days after Poythress' fourth double-double this season, the fifth time in seven games he has scored in double figures. He has been able to string together a nice stretch of good basketball, but he hasn't performed well consistently this season.
In the game against LSU on Jan. 5, an 85-67 Tigers' victory in Baton Rouge, Poythress fouled out after 26 minutes with just four points and four rebounds.
Calipari, however, believes in Poythress because of his resilience; Poythress didn't have much of a choice, but the struggles he has overcome makes him appreciate where he is at.
''I'm just thankful to be playing the game and just humbled to be in this situation,'' Poythress said of his career. ''It's been long, but it's been great. Some of the best memories of my life. I wouldn't trade it for the world.''