UK Men's Basketball

UK men's basketball: Calipari finds role for Poythress: Beast in residence

Kentucky's Alex Poythress (22) followed up a missed shot with a dunk in the Cats' loss to Duke earlier this season. The freshman had 20 points and eight rebounds against the Blue Devils in his second collegiate game.
Kentucky's Alex Poythress (22) followed up a missed shot with a dunk in the Cats' loss to Duke earlier this season. The freshman had 20 points and eight rebounds against the Blue Devils in his second collegiate game. Herald-Leader

With Kentucky hoping to define freshman Alex Poythress' optimal playing style, the loss to Duke on Tuesday served as a living, breathing, emphatically-dunking dictionary entry.

Poythress scored a team-high 20 points, equalled a team-high with eight rebounds and, maybe most importantly, appeared to lead all players in being physically imposing. More than once, he went aggressively to the basket and one-handed offensive rebounds through the hoop.

In one memorable moment, he rose in a lane crowded with players and used two hands to snatch a rebound above Duke's star big man, Mason Plumlee, who is three inches taller. He then proceeded to the basket for a score.

That sequence put the "man" in man-child. It also fulfilled Coach John Calipari's goal stated earlier this early season to define how Poythress should play.

"He's a beast," the UK coach said after UK lost 75-68. "That's who he needed to look like. That's what he is. He's not a 'two-guard.' He is a beast. So be a beast."

In Kentucky's opener against Maryland four nights earlier, Poythress seemed unsure of how to play. His versatility opened up possibilities, perhaps too many possibilities. Perimeter shooter? Slasher? Post-up man? Fast-break finisher? Fast-break trailer? Auxiliary rebounder? Stout board man?

"I don't want to see any of the cute stuff," Calipari said. "Get the ball by the (defender) and dunk on somebody."

Not that the UK coach voiced an objection to an occasional jumper, if only to keep things interesting.

"Tip-dunk and shoot a couple threes when you can," Calipari said, "and that's what he did."

Calipari suggested that UK spent the better part of two practice days showing Poythress how he can be most effective. The UK coach made the rim-rattling approach sound elemental and unforgiving.

"Alex getting to the rim and dunking balls," he said.

Poythress, who spoke quietly after the brass-band performance, made Calipari's approach in recent practices sound uncomplicated and direct. "Just pushed me hard," he said.

More than once in the pre-season, Calipari spoke of the need to rev Poythress' motor. He called for the first-year player from Clarksville, Tenn., to be like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the ultimate in high-performance motoring at UK in recent seasons.

Calipari likened Poythress to an all-purpose physical presence he coached at UMass. This player he did not name (Lou Roe?) made big plays and big shots while grabbing big rebounds.

Of Poythress, Calipari said, "That's what his role is on this team."

Poythress' role can include psychological aid. Another former physical forward, CBS college basketball commentator Clark Kellogg, noted how two particular basketball plays can deal a psychological blow to an opponent:

A dunk on a put-back can be a "momentum changer," he said.

The building anticipation and swish of a well-timed three-point shot.

Against Duke, Poythress had one three-pointer and at least two put-back dunks. Those plays can stagger a defense, although Kellogg added that with a resilient opponent like Duke the effect can affect "only a possession or two."

Meanwhile, Poythress did not thump his chest after the game or proclaim a personal victory. When asked about being a beast, he said, "Sometimes, yeah, I guess."

To which Calipari added, "It's hard to be a beast."

Looking ahead

Calipari suggested that games in the next 10 days should help the effort to develop depth with point guard Ryan Harrow sidelined. The next three opponents are Lafayette (Friday), Morehead State (Wednesday) and Long Island (Nov. 23).

"We have to find one more guy till Ryan comes back," the UK coach said. That guy figures to be Jon Hood.

"It wouldn't have been fair for me to stick Jon Hood into a game like this," Calipari said of UK playing Duke. "We have some games coming up I can stick Jon Hood in there and give him a chance.

"And it wouldn't have been fair for me to try to play Jarrod Polson more in this game (against Duke)."

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