With news of Nerlens Noel’s season-ending ACL tear in his left knee, it leaves an already shallow Kentucky team searching for answers with only seven games left in the regular season. The question is not whether Kentucky can play without Noel or not, but can they regroup and collectively play harder heading towards the home stretch? I’d say the answer is yes. The opportunity for these players to play harder and better each game always presents itself, but will they answer the call?
Nerlens Noel rose to the opportunity all season– he had progressed intensively, from being behind on summer workouts to leading the team in rebounding (9.5 rpg), being the overall leader for blocks in the nation, and finishing second on the all-time single season block list at UK. Now it’s Alex Poythress’ turn to rise and be the all-around player he can be.
Poythress has had a quiet year for the most part, yet he is second overall for points (12 ppg) and rebounds (6.3 rpg) for the Cats. Those are great numbers, but he isn’t still playing like the explosive, versatile player he should be. He is still playing like a freshman, making freshman mistakes. Poor shot selection, missed defensive assignments, missed free throws, etc.
I’m not picking on Poythress because he does those things on occasion, but I am pointing those mistakes because everyone is guilty of committing them. But this is the perfect time for him to improve upon those mistakes and become better. He has slid in the most recent ESPN Mock Draft to the 13th overall pick; still a lottery pick, but not where he can be, or should be. These next seven games, not including the postseason, can make or break your draft status, as well as your team’s season. Just ask Brandon Knight. So know is not the time to mope around or feel sorry for your lost teammate, because he is poised for a “major comeback”. Now is the time for this team to hit the gym for those extra practice hours, play to your full potential, and play for your teammates. Play for each other.