Poythress again proves his value as Kentucky holds off the Dominican Republic

jtipton@herald-leader.comAugust 15, 2014 

  • SATURDAY'S EXHIBITION

    UK vs. Champagne Chalons-Reims

    Where: Nassau, Bahamas

    When: 1 p.m.

    TV: SEC Network

    Radio: WLAP-AM 630; WHAS-AM 840

NASSAU, Bahamas — Alex Poythress continued to show Friday that he believes he's good. That makes it unanimous.

After Kentucky beat the Dominican Republic National Team 83-71, both sides saluted Poythress. He scored 20 points. He made his first two three-pointers in the week-long stay here. He posted up for a basket. He bullied a defender aside on a drive. And, of course, he rose high above the rim and dunked a lob pass.

In other words, the blossoming of the heretofore enigmatic Poythress proceeded as he succeeded.

"Everybody knows how good Alex can be," said former UK assistant Orlando Antigua, who now coaches the Dominicans. "How good Alex can be. How strong he is. Alex, at times, has seen and knows he can be good. He just has to understand that he is that good."

It can be difficult to grasp how a big (6-foot-8), strong (238 pounds), bouncy player can lack confidence or, to borrow the current vernacular, "swag." Even coaches can feel like they're staggering in the darkness to explain how this can happen.

"Sometimes it's personality," Antigua said. " ... Sometimes it's different variables. You can never tell."But I'm happy to see him playing the way he's playing."

Assistant Kenny Payne, who directed the UK team as Coach John Calipari watched from the bleachers, spoke of confidence.

"I'm proud of Alex," he said. "Alex is playing unbelievable. He just has to continue to play with confidence. I'm not surprised at all.

"He came back to show he's one of the best forwards in the country. As of today, he's showing it."

Poythress, who has averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in UK's four exhibition games here (making 23 of 31 shots), said he feels "way more confident" than he did as a freshman or sophomore.

Yes, he said, he came back for his junior season with the idea of making a statement.

"Prove I'm still one of the best," he said. "Just trying to show the world."

To use the word "still" implied that he lost that cache in some circles. Poythress could not say why there might be doubts.

"I'm just trying to prove I'm still one of the great guys in college," he said. "Trying to show the world, really."

Former UK player Eloy Vargas, who started for the Dominicans, said he's noticed a different Poythress. He suggested a new, improved Poythress is a reflection of progressing and developing as a player.

"Alex is real old now," he said. "I know he's just now getting there."

UK teammate Dakari Johnson also spoke of confidence as the key difference in Poythress.

"What's different is just his whole mindset," Johnson said. "He's in more of an attack mode. Whenever he gets it, he's looking to attack more. He's just playing to his strength."

Poythress acknowledged the "great feeling" that came with making the threes.

"That's what I've been working on real hard," he said. "A couple of the threes I shot the other day were in and out. It's good to finally see (perimeter shots go in)."

Payne noted how difficult Poythress will be to defend if he's making threes as well as operating around the basket.

"If he's just playing with confidence, as strong as he is, the way he explodes off the floor, the ability to get offensive rebounds, to beat you off the dribble and dunk you, to catch the ball in the post and make plays, he's tough," Payne said. "He's a tough matchup for anybody."

Poythress did all that against the Dominicans Friday, as he did earlier in this series of exhibitions against teams from Puerto Rico and France.

Of course, exhibitions in the summer against lower-tier professionals is one thing. Doing it in regular-season play against college opponents with, as Calipari likes to say, Super Bowl zeal, is another.

Poythress said there can be carryover.

"It'll be real valuable," he said of Kentucky's trip to the Bahamas. "Because if I don't do it in the season, I'll have something to fall back on. It'll be like I did it during the summer. So why can't I do it, now?

"I'm just trying to continue to build on it."

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

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