George Robinson can still remember hearing the talk about a “tall, lanky middle school kid” named Alex Poythress — a Kentucky signee — when he first got to Clarksville, Tenn., in 2006.
“I covered the middle school basketball tournament and watched him play in the championship game for his West Creek Middle School team. He had 28 points, about 16 rebounds and 11 blocks. Granted, it was against 12 and 13 year olds who were a full foot shorter than he was, but his hands and feet were huge which suggested to me that he was going to grow even more,” said Robinson. “At that time he was about 6-5 or 6-6.
Robinson now works for The Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville after previously working for the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, where he covered UK basketball and football from 1999-2005.
He believes the “sky’s the limit for this kid” and says even though Clarksville has produced Division I¿basketball players Shawn Marion (UNLV), Trenton Hassell (Austin Peay), Marques Maybin (Louisville) and Ted Young (Vanderbilt) that the city “hasn’t had an athlete quite like” Poythress before.
Robinson thinks Poythress, a McDonald’s All-American, will do well at Kentucky.
“For the way Alex plays, I think he’s a perfect fit for (John) Calipari’s system. Obviously Kentucky likes to get out and run, and Alex can do that. He has the wingspan to defend the post and the athletic ability to get to the basket off the dribble,” Robinson said.
Robison says there is a lot to like about Poythress’ game.
“Alex has great vision for a big man and the ability to put the ball on the floor and play facing the basket. Of all the things he does well, his ability to handle the ball at 6-8 is most impressive because you don’t see that kind of game from a kid who has played primarily in the post his entire young career,” Robinson said. “Most kids who have been ‘relegated’ to playing inside really never develop the kinds of skills that will allow them to be versatile at the next level, but Alex has shown the intelligence to work on facets of his game that will serve a purpose down the line. I think he’s smart enough to know what’s going to work for him at the next level.
“Alex has to get stronger first. I think his first month in Lexington will be about doing just that. He’s tall and lean so his frame can take putting on about 15 pounds of muscle. Dominating at 6-8 in high school is easy. Doing that in college when there are guards who are your size is another story. Putting on that necessary weight won’t be an issue at a program as top flight as UK’s.
“I think he could also get better with his back to the basket — his post moves. He’s got learn how to get his shot in the paint in a halfcourt set against guys his size and bigger. Footwork will be key in that development. His shot also has to be more consistent from long range as well.”
Robinson isn’t sure if Poythress will be a one-and-done player at UK who heads for the NBA after one season as many other players have done during Calipari’s time at UK. However, it would not surprise him to see that happen.
“I think if he develops a long-range game and improves in the post he can be a lottery pick. Kentucky already has the NBA scouts swarming on campus looking for the next John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins or Anthony Davis,” Robinson said.
“Alex, I think, can fall into that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist role because he’s aggressive like Kidd-Gilchrist. If he develops that consistent outside shot and can move in the paint and score, he’ll be gone after his first year.
“Right now, he’s not NBA ready. But all the potential is there for him to make millions within the next two years. From what I know NBA scouts already like him as a late first rounder, early second. If he puts up about 15-17 points a game as a freshman at UK and he can defend, he’ll be a top 10 pick.”
Robinson knows the passion of UK¿basketball fans will be a change for Poythress.
“He’s shy, reserved and not really the kind of kid that is used to having such intense scrutiny put on his game the way that it will be in Lexington. But like I said before, he’s a smart kid. I think he understands what he’s getting into by joining Big Blue Nation,” Robinson said. “It’s not for the faint of heart and you have to be willing to withstand the criticism as much as you are at accepting the praise.
“All of his basketball-playing life, Alex has been told he’s golden. As a freshman for a top five college program he’ll have some dips along the way and he’ll have to figure out how to navigate those waters while keeping his confidence high.”
However, Robinson has no doubts that Calipari and UK fans will love having Poythress at UK.
“Alex will never be the kind of player that Calipari has to worry about off the court. He’s as solid a character-kid as I’ve seen and I think his maturity gives him a leg-up on dealing with the spotlight that inevitably comes with playing at UK,” Robinson said. “He’s reserved. It takes a while to gain his trust if he’s not familiar with you. But he’s a good kid and he’s humble which is, to me, a huge thing for such a high profile teenage athlete.”