Alex Poythress hoped to make 2014-15 a breakout season. But a torn anterior cruciate ligament means he’ll have to wait at least another year to reach that goal.
The University of Kentucky announced Friday that Poythress will miss the remainder of this season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during Thursday’s practice.
Just like that, the goals for a season were snuffed.
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In the preseason, Poythress and coaches spoke of him showing in his third UK season that he was the best forward in the country.
“Mentally, I feel I’m more prepared, more ready,” he said. “Just trying to do what I need to do out there. Physically, I’ve always been there. But, mentally, I feel that’s where I really worked on.”
Poythress looked the part in Kentucky’s six exhibition games against pro teams in the Bahamas in August. He led the Cats in scoring (11.8 ppg). He made 27 of 36 shots (75-percent accuracy), while averaging 5.7 rebounds, making six steals and blocking four shots.
In other words, it was a much more active and engaged Poythress than the player who often seemed tentative as a freshman and sophomore.
“I don’t know if it’s a new Alex,” said Al Cooper, who coached Poythress at Northeast High School in Clarksville, Tenn. “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.
“I think we saw glimpses of that type of Alex last year in games in the NCAA. It was like he said, ‘OK, I can do that a whole lot more and I need to do it with longer sustained effort.
“I just think his mindset is he’s ready to show he’s one of the best forwards in the country.”
A McDonald’s All-American, Poythress was named to the coaches’ All-SEC Freshman Team for the 2012-13 season and made the media’s All-SEC second team for the 2014-15 season.
Poythress became the second UK player in the last three seasons to tear an ACL. Nerlens Noel tore an ACL at Florida on Feb. 12, 2013. That injury ruined UK’s season. The Cats lost by 30 at Tennessee in the next game and ended the season in a first-round NIT loss at Robert Morris.
Given the remaining eight McDonald’s All-Americans on this season’s team, Kentucky will be expected to more easily absorb Poythress’s loss. Not that the injury did not strike a blow.
"When you're coaching other people’s children and these children have high aspirations and unlimited potential – not only to do things for themselves but for other people – I can't begin to tell you the feeling when someone gets hurt,” Coach John Calipari said in a news release. "My own son, Brad, tore his ACL last year. All I can tell you is I was physically sick when it happened to him. I feel exactly the same way now that it's happened to Alex."
A date for surgery has not been set yet, UK said. The normal timetable for recovery following ACL reconstructive surgery is six to eight months.
"Our team was devastated for Alex when I told them," Calipari said. "There were tears throughout the room because this hurt them to the core. How they will respond I really don’t know, but I will do my best to be there for each of these kids.
"I told them, this is a big blow to our team. No one will be able to replace Alex and what he did for this team. I go back to last year's NCAA Tournament. Without Alex, we don't win those games. No one will be able to replace him, but now everybody has to do a little bit more as we try to circle the wagons."
Poythress was averaging 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in his third season for Kentucky.