LEXINGTON - Alex Poythress wasn’t just in town to play a basketball game; he was also playing the role of tour guide.
Poythress had been in Lexington several times before, but his coach said this time he took particular delight in the fact that his teammates were along for the ride.
The Kentucky signee and his teammates from Clarksville (Tenn.) Northeast took in the Wildcats’ game Saturday against South Carolina at Rupp Arena hours before playing their own game at Lexington Catholic, and Northeast coach Al Cooper said he could tell it meant a great deal to Poythress to show off the place where he’ll play next year.
“Alex, obviously, has made a few trips here, but the thing that was neat about today is his teammates got to see where his future home is, and they got to see the passion at the game, and I know Alex was very proud to bring his teammates up here,” Cooper said. “He wanted to be tour guide today. He wanted to show everyone this, this and how to do things. I saw the excitement in him, and because he was excited, it was a special trip.”
Poythress didn’t seem to think his performance in Northeast’s victory over Lafayette in the Dunkin’ Donuts National Shootout was anything special, although it was the latest in a series of stellar games for the 6-8 forward.
Poythress scored 42 points in the Eagles’ 78-68 win, but the soft-spoken star summed up his game succinctly.
“It was all right,” he said. “I really tried to play hard, do what I normally do, really.”
But Cooper said he thinks Poythress’ first game in Lexington might have meant a little more to him than a typical game.
“I know he wanted to put on a show for the people up here, but he’s been doing that all year,” Cooper said.
This was the third time this season that Poythress has scored more than 40 points, and he has scored 30 or more 11 times in 18 games.
“I am surprised. I didn’t think I’d be doing this good,” he said.
Poythress is averaging 31.2 points per game overall and 42.3 in three games since being held to a season-low nine points Dec. 29 in Northeast’s only loss.
He went 14 for 23 with nine dunks Saturday, sank 13 of 19 free throws and had seven rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals. His coach said it was an impressive effort, but he also said there’s room for improvement.
“I can look at his numbers, but I’m still a coach, and I still see weaknesses in his game, and I see things that I know he can do better,” Cooper said. “So was I pleased with his game? Yes. Was it by far his best game? No.”
Poythress said it was a good experience for him, however. Kentucky fans have made their way across the state line to his games in and near Clarksville, but many more of them saw him play Saturday.
“I’m pretty excited about all the fan support,” he said.
But Poythress said he felt at ease, even with Kentucky coach John Calipari and a couple of his assistants looking down on him from a balcony above one baseline.
“Nah, it’s just basketball. I don’t get nervous,” he said.
Poythress said meant a lot to him that the Kentucky coaches and a number of players came straight from their game to watch him and fellow UK signee Archie Goodwin, whose team played just before Northeast. (The players left before Poythress’ game.)
Poythress said earlier in the day he imagined himself on the Rupp Arena floor as he watched the Wildcats.
“Just thinking about winning, playing for coach Cal, playing in that arena, all the tradition, all that stuff,” he said.
And some more specific stuff, too. Poythress is a power forward who can operate in the paint or away from the basket, and he said he pictured himself doing some of the things he watched forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist do for Kentucky.
“I envision myself on the wing, (making) athletic plays, playing where Michael’s playing,” he said. “They get up and down, so that’s what I want to do, get up and down and make athletic plays.”
Cooper, who accompanied Ron Mercer to Lexington when he was being recruited by Kentucky in the mid-1990s, said he also had a clear picture in his mind of what Poythress would look like playing for the Wildcats.
“Yeah, I can picture him playing for Calipari, and I can picture him doing very, very well,” Cooper said.