UK Men's Basketball

Calipari judging Poythress on 'sense of urgency' at Vandy

Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress went hard to the basket in the game against Lipscomb in December. He'll have home-town friends and family in the stands when UK plays at Vandy Thursday.
Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress went hard to the basket in the game against Lipscomb in December. He'll have home-town friends and family in the stands when UK plays at Vandy Thursday. Herald-Leader

Kentucky freshman Alex Poythress, who grew up about 50 miles from Memorial Gymnasium, downplayed the homecoming subplot in Thursday's game at Vanderbilt. That no-drama approach fits the circumspect persona he always presents reporters.

But Poythress perked up when asked how much John Calipari, the sweet-talking recruiter, differed from John Calipari, the taskmaster coach.

"Same type of dude," Poythress said as a smile lit up his face. "He doesn't (B.S.) you. He keeps it real."

So Calipari's recruiting style included a lot of yelling, screaming and incessant demands?

"He didn't yell," Poythress said. "But basically the same stuff."

By now, Poythress must be an expert in deciphering Calipari's moods. Not too high a bar to clear given how the coach consistently shows impatience and dissatisfaction. Whatever Poythress does in games, the UK coach is sure to demand more.

With the Vandy game coming on the second day of the spring semester, it serves as a chance to evaluate the now-concluded Camp Cal workouts. True to form, Calipari refused to lose the story line that Poythress must do much more.

When asked Wednesday to judge the progress Poythress made between semesters, Calipari said, "We'll see after the (Vandy) game. We'll all have a good idea."

Calipari noted the lack of mystery surrounding what those emotionally invested in Kentucky basketball want from Poythress.

"Everybody is just looking for fight," the UK coach said. "I really don't care about his shot (or) if he turns it over some. I don't think anybody cares.

"They're zeroing in on, 'Is he out there in battle? Is he competing? Does he have a sense of urgency? Or not?' If he doesn't, you'll see he hasn't taken the steps we thought."

The idea of family and friends in Memorial Gym inspiring Poythress to try to do too much caused Calipari to quip, "If it's an effort thing, he can do as much as he wants. Go till you pass out."

Poythress gave no hint of tingling with anticipation about playing at Vanderbilt. He merely confirmed that, yes, family and friends from his hometown of Clarksville would be in attendance.

"That makes it exciting," he said in a flat monotone with a deadpan expression on his face. "At the end of the day, it's just another game."


Poythress said he came "somewhat close" to signing with Vanderbilt.

"Family-oriented school," he said of the Commodores' appeal. "Good academics. Good coaches. I really had a bond with the players."

One of his teammates on the AAU Nashville Celtics was future Vandy guard Kedren Johnson. "I know him pretty well," Johnson said.

But it's not that big a surprise that the reserved Poythress isn't in constant contact.

"He's not a big phone person," Johnson said. "I'm not either."

Of course, Calipari would like Poythress to give Vandy a busy signal all night.

After coming off the bench at Louisville, Poythress returned to the starting lineup against Eastern Michigan as part of the go-big alignment. He joined 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein and 6-10 Nerlens Noel in a lineup that accentuated tall timber.

"We should be a great rebounding team," Calipari said of the alignment. "But you have to make efforts. The whole thing is it's not talent. It's an effort level."

Calipari acknowledged Poythress's willingness to accept coaching. But, the UK coach said, "To listen and then to change what you do are two different things.

"He's respectful. Is he responding to everything? No. Because it's really hard. Like anybody else, you get in that comfort level versus somebody tries to push you out of the comfort level. You fight it. Sometimes it becomes embarrassing. Everybody is watching, and you're not able to do it and that makes it doubly hard."

Calipari cautioned against the assumption that his pushing of Poythress represented something unusual. It bears a striking resemblance to the Calipari-Terrence Jones relationship the past two years.

"Every great player out there, there was a point he had to learn what Alex is learning," the UK coach said. "'I have to bust through when I'm tired. I can't look exhausted. ... I don't need anybody to alibi for me.

"You've got to recognize it, which he has. Now, you've got to change it."

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