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Poythress: Bitterness will drive UK

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Perhaps it was the end to a belabored basketball season that triggered a release valve, but soft-spoken, painfully shy freshman Alex Poythress opened his feelings to the world about life as a Kentucky basketball player immediately after the Cats’ 59-57 loss at Robert Morris in the NIT.

Poythress, it’s no secret, has been a poster child of sorts for a 21-12 season during which coach John Calipari simply could not get his young team to buy into his teachings.

“People didn’t change, myself included,” Poythress said. “Coach told us what he wanted and we either did it or we didn’t. That’s on us. He laid it out as perfectly as you can. They can only do so much for us. They probably did more than what they should’ve for us. It comes back on us as players to execute what he wants us to do.”

Poythress’ final game was a snapshot of his rookie season. Despite being 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, Poythress only grabbed two rebounds in 27 minutes. Four other teammates did better, including guard Archie Goodwin, who had seven.

The freshman remains at a loss to explain why things never clicked for him or the team, but he is determined to use that sick feeling as a foundation.

“We’ll have a bitter taste in our mouth and that should drive us a lot,” Poythress said. “We didn’t make the tournament. We lost in the first round of the NIT. We can’t let that happen. We have to work hard. We can’t let this happen again.”

To that end, Poythress echoed the sentiments of Goodwin, who says all the freshmen need to return next season and forget about thoughts of the NBA for now.

“Honestly, I agree. Everybody here could use a couple of more years to tighten their game and focus,” Poythress said. “Nobody wants to leave college on this ... disappointing, frustrating, all kinds of words come to mind. Nobody wants to leave on this note.”

As one season is ending, talk of another is already under way and for Poythress, both are linked to the 2012 national championship team.

In 2013, Poythress’ group had the unenviable task of following the champions featuring six NBA draft picks – senior Darius Miller, sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb and freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague.

“Last year was a great team, probably one of the best in the last decade,” Poythress said. “They made it look so easy, easier than it really is. So you come here thinking that, but you don’t realize how hard it’s going to be, how hard teams are going to play against you. How every game is just a tough game.”

In 2014, those who return will be joined by a minimum of six McDonald’s All-Americans, a class already hailed as the greatest in history.

“Next year should be a great year,” Poythress said. “We’ll have a couple of older guys next. This year it was mostly freshmen. Last year they had seniors, juniors and sophomores, it wasn’t just freshmen.”

So Poythress moves into the offseason a wiser man, one determined to be driven by the failure of a once-promising season.

“Nobody thought the season would be like this,” Poythress said. “This is very surprising. There’s just so much hard work you’ve got to put in. You’ve got to come prepared.”

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