Teammates see early improvement in Poythress, Skal

Although Kentucky’s first game is still two weeks away, teammates touted the improvement already made by arguably the two most important players to team success this season: Alex Poythress and Skal Labissiere.

Of course, Poythress is coming back from tearing an anterior cruciate ligament in mid-December. UK Coach John Calipari has said that Poythress can make a critical difference because his combination of size and athleticism makes him the team’s only “beast.”

Teammate Marcus Lee said he can see Poythress rounding into that kind of player.

“Alex is definitely a confident player right now,” Lee said Friday. “He’s getting used to his injury no longer being there. It’s mostly mental with him. Him just saying, ‘OK, I’m ready to do it.’ That’s what he has to do.”

A standout play still contains an element of surprise for Poythress, Lee said.

“You can definitely see sometimes when he’ll forget that he’s ever been injured,” Lee said. “And he’ll jump out of the gym like he usually does. After he does, he’ll kind of have a surprised face of forgetting how powerful he really is.”

Labissiere is widely seen as a possible overall No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. After the Blue-White Game on Tuesday, Calipari again called for the freshman big man to assert himself more and become an intimidating presence.

Mychal Mulder said Labissiere is making this transition.

“I definitely say I’ve seen Skal take a lot of steps forward as a basketball player and as a person,” Mulder said. “. . . He’s handled everything that’s been put on him really well.”

Lee echoed that thought.

“Skal is definitely a really confident player, so confidence is not something he really needs to work on,” Lee said. “It’s kind of just him knowing he’s able to do it, and just doing it, and not over-thinking the process.”