UK's Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson announce they will remain at school

jtipton@herald-leader.comApril 23, 2014 

After saluting the less-is-more theme of this past season on Tuesday, Kentucky basketball returned to its customary more-is-more ethos on Wednesday. It was addition by addition as sophomore Alex Poythress and freshman Dakari Johnson announced they will bypass this year's NBA Draft and return to UK.

Their return means at least seven McDonald's All-Americans will be on Kentucky's team next season. Perhaps the number will rise to nine should twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison also decide to return. The deadline for deciding is 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

On Tuesday, freshman star Julius Randle announced he would join teammate James Young in entering his name in the June 26 NBA Draft. Randle noted how doing less (i.e. not forcing the action) brought individual and team success in 2013-14.

Wednesday's announcements by Poythress and Johnson ensure a Kentucky roster next season bursting with talent and, no doubt, saddled with the kind of out-sized expectation that fueled talk this time last year of a 40-0 record and Death Star presence over the college basketball landscape.

In a statement on her son's decision to return, Johnson's mother, perhaps unwittingly, touched on how this past season served as both a cautionary tale about the dangers of hubris and a reminder of what united effort can do.

"Dakari wasn't worried about any other player coming back/or in," Makini Campbell said. "I think what he learned this year — regardless of a loaded, talented team — is that each player brings something unique to the group that (contributed) to the March run."

Poythress, a straight-A student, couched his decision to return in the context of sober reflection and long-term perspective.

"Playing in the NBA has always been a dream of mine, but I want to make sure that I'm NBA-ready before I make that jump," Poythress said in a statement. "By coming back, I'll be so much closer to earning my degree in business and it will give me another year to prepare my game and my body for the next level."

His coach at Northeast High School in Clarksville, Tenn., said he discussed the stay-or-leave decision with Poythress last weekend.

"He wants to make sure he's ready when the time comes" to turn pro, Al Cooper said. "He wants to make sure he has a career in the league, and he wants to make sure he has a career when his time is done playing basketball.

"That's why going back to school and getting a degree means the world to him."

Poythress, 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 5.9 points and 4.5 rebounds this past season. Both averages were down from his freshman season (11.2 ppg and 6.0 rpg). But so, too, were his minutes: 25.8 as a freshman, 18.4 as a sophomore.

Poythress soldiered on despite the original expectation of him being a so-called one-and-done player fading away. In a release, UK noted how Poythress contributed eight points and seven rebounds to a national semifinal victory over Wisconsin.

Cooper suggested critics "slow your roll. Because the big plan is still in the (early) stages. He's still in the developmental stage, and he'll continue to develop for the next 10 years."

Noting Poythress' streak of four straight games scoring 20 or more points as a freshman (beginning with a big-stage showdown against Duke), Cooper said, "You have to remember Alex is still the same person who four games in a row had 20 points. His role changed for the betterment of the Kentucky Wildcat basketball team. Alex had to give himself up to his team's success. Alex is a team player (and) has always been a team player."

UK Coach John Calipari welcomed the return of Poythress.

"I'm excited for Alex and the decision he's arrived at," he said in a release. "I'm proud of the work he committed to this past season, on and off the floor, and think he's ready to take that next step and lead this team next season."

Poythress and Johnson will help give Kentucky a key ingredient largely missing this past season: veteran leadership from players who have logged a lot of court time. Last week, sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein and freshman Marcus Lee announced their intention to return for the 2014-15 season.

Johnson averaged 5.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 14.1 minutes this past season. In a statement, he termed it "a year of transition, growth and so much fun! I've learned a lot about myself personally through adversity and triumph. ...What memories!"

His mother summed up the 2013-14 season by saying, "Hands down, we had a blast!"

Johnson noted the change to further develop as a player, a leader and a person next season.

"In addition, it will give me the opportunity to continue my studies because the ball will stop bouncing one day (shout out to Mike Stone)," he said, the latter a reference to the team's academic counselor the past 16 seasons. "Big Blue Nation, I can't thank you enough for your support, and I look forward to representing UK next year."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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