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Calipari Goes One-on-One With Poythress

This story appears courtesy of RCN partner KY Forward and is written by Jon Hale.

Some of John Calipari‘s players are getting extra one-on-one attention.

Calipari took to his website, CoachCal.com, on Sunday to explain freshman forward Alex Poythress would receive personal attention from Calipari after team practices this week. On Monday, he explained that freshman guard Archie Goodwin and sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow were still working with him before team practices.

“Here’s what happens when you work with kids individually as a head coach: You help build their confidence, because now you’re working directly with them, but you also build you confidence in them,” Calipari said. “Also, now, you’re kind of invested in their success.”

The extra attention from Calipari appears to have paid off for Harrow.

He is averaging 17.3 points per game in his last three contests with nine assists and just two turnovers in that span.

On Saturday, he scored 17 points, grabbed five rebounds and tallied three assists versus Louisville. He did not record a single turnover in 39 minutes on the floor versus the vaunted Cardinal defense. Harrow also showed off a floater in the lane that he had improved during the workouts.

“It helped a lot,” Harrow said of his workouts with Calipari. “It gave me more confidence in taking that shot instead of being worried about taking shots. We’ve just gotta keep working on it so I’ll be able to knock down more of those shots.”

With Harrow’s play trending upward, much of Calipari’s focus has shifted toward Poythress.

During a four-game stretch earlier this season, Poythress averaged 21 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, but he is averaging just nine points and six rebounds in his last three games.

Versus Louisville, Poythress scored seven points and grabbed five rebounds, but he spent all but three minutes of the second half on the bench after Calipari questioned his effort on several plays.

Calipari is already seeing progress after two days of workouts with Poythress.

“He was better today than he was yesterday,” Calipari said. “It wasn’t close. Now, was he all the way there? No. He’s still not ready to play a game.”

During his impressive stretch of early season play, Poythress found what Calipari and his teammates have called “beast mode.” Against Duke, he scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds while taking over the game for stretches.

“I think we all have seen the beastly Alex, and we want him to come out of the shell that he’s in and play like he knows how and we know how he plays,” said freshman forward Willie Cauley-Stein. “It could be a slow process. As a team, we’ve just got to stay with him and keep him positive.”

Calipari is still uncertain what clicks for Poythress during “beast mode” that he hasn’t found during the rest of his games.

During his one-on-one workouts, Poythress is tasked with giving 100 percent effort at all times.

“You can’t break down when you just feel that you’re tired,” Calipari said. “So, anytime he breaks down, he has to go again on the stuff that we’re doing. It’s stuff relevant to him, that’s going to help him in the games.”

Harrow has tried to explain to Poythress the benefits he gained from buying into Calipari’s system.

“Coach said at the beginning of the year I was trying to fight what he was trying to tell me to do,” Harrow said. “But now I’ve made a change and it’s obvious in the games. I’m playing harder and being more confident and just doing what he’s asking me to do to help the team out.”

Harrow also knows how important Poythress’ progress is to the team’s goals.

“He has all the talent to be one of the best players in the country,” Harrow said. “It’s just a mental thing with him. He has to believe it. We can’t believe it for him.”

Poythress was not made available for interviews Monday, but his teammates did their best to temper some expectations from fans.

“The pressure for him is crazy,” Cauley-Stein said. “I don’t think people realize how much weight he has on his shoulders, being who he is and who Coach Cal is. People just got to realize that he’s got a lot more expectations and pressure than most of us do.”

Calipari didn’t agree with Cauley-Stein’s proclamation that Poythress faced the most pressure of any UK player, but he acknowledged dealign with that pressure is a task all his players have to master.

“I think they’ve all got pressure on them, every one of them, from Ryan to Archie to Alex to Nerlens (Noel),” Calipari said. “How about Nerlens? He’s supposed to be this, that and the other. So playing at Kentucky, believe me, there’s enough pressure on you.”

PHOTO: Alex Poythress goes up for a dunk against Samford earlier in the season/Jon Hale