Alex Poythress expected to be an immediate star for Kentucky. Why wouldn't he and UK fans anticipate this logical and familiar "B" follows "A" progression? He came to the Cats with all the shiniest epaulets the recruiting world can bestow: McDonald's All-American, Mr. Basketball (in his case, for Tennessee) and top-10 national rating.
Let the highlight reel begin ...
"I thought it would be easy," Poythress said this summer. "I thought it was going to be like high school. I was just coming in. Going through the motions. Making shots. Making plays."
Of course, it hasn't turned out that way. Not yet, anyhow.
By the end of the fall semester of his freshman year, Poythress knew better.
"People play with a chip on their shoulder and, you know, you've got to play with a chip on yours, too," he said. "... Maybe around Christmas, you realize that, 'Hey, this is actually hard.'"
In addition to opponents being talented and driven, Kentucky fans were impatient and unforgiving. It wasn't long before they wanted to know what was wrong. They've kept wanting to know for two seasons.
Then, as now, Poythress leaned on Al Cooper, his coach at Northeast High School in Clarksville, Tenn. Cooper told Poythress to keep it simple. Work to improve. Don't complicate the task.
When asked about Cooper's advice, Poythress smiled.
"He always said that in high school," he said. "Keep it simple. Make the easy play. Don't try to be too flashy. Don't try to impress the crowd. Just do what you can out there."
Poythress did just that during Kentucky's August exhibition games in the Bahamas. Scoring and rebounding. Alert and active.
"I don't know if it's a new Alex," Cooper said afterward. "I think it's a more dialed-in Alex.
"He's doing whatever it takes to get on the court and stay on the court."
Poythress worked out diligently this past offseason.
"I know what he did in our gym," Cooper said of Poythress's visits home in Clarksville. "He would shoot 500 to 700 pull-up jumpers a day. One-dribble pull-ups and getting that shot off quickly."
The key was a quick and decisive move into the shot. No fiddling and diddling.
"He's never going to be a pass-it-through-the-legs-four-times-and-break-you-down player like Allen Iverson," Cooper said. "What he's going to be is a catch-and-one/two-dribble and shoot. Get to the kill-zone spot and pull up and shoot the ball. That, he can do.
"Our workouts were geared to keeping it simple."
An unencumbered Poythress played in the Bahamas. He looked like the player that opponents have been bracing for.
"He's a matchup nightmare for other teams ...," Cooper said. "Most teams don't stick a 6-8, 240-pound guy out there at the 'three-spot' (small forward). Usually, those guys are a little bit smaller."
Poythress warmed to the idea of being an X-factor, a player whose contributions can significantly enhance Kentucky's team.
"I mean, yeah, I think I can," he said. "I like being that kind of guy. If I play well, the team plays well."
When pressed, Poythress acknowledged that former UK star Patrick Patterson could be the kind of impact player he'd want to emulate.
"But at the end of the day, still, I'm trying to work on my game (and) trying to do what I can."
In the Bahamas, UK coaches spoke of Poythress wanting to prove this season that he's one of the country's best forwards.
There is a different mindset, a more dialed-in determination.
"He's out to prove he's worthy of everything that was said of him coming out of high school," Cooper said before describing Poythress's thought process as "'I've taken my licks up there.' And when I say licks (I mean) criticism.
"It's just time to be Alex."