LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Alex Poythress will return next season from a knee injury and give Kentucky coach John Calipari something he's never had with the Wildcats: A four-year player who is a major contributor.
Poythress suffered a season-ending injury in December, tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament during practice. The injury turned Calipari's platoon system into a nine-man rotation and the junior starting forward into an observer during Kentucky's 38-0 start that ended with a Final Four loss to Wisconsin.
Poythress considered joining seven Wildcats teammates in the NBA draft, but instead he is now poised to set a precedent by completing his eligibility in a program best known for developing "one-and-done" players.
"I looked at my options like everybody else did," Poythress said Wednesday. "I felt like the best decision was to come back."
The 6-foot-8 Poythress will add experience to a roster that will need it next season.
He'll be joined by 6-9 junior forward Marcus Lee and 5-9 point guard Tyler Ulis, who will step into starting roles after playing in reserve roles last season. Ulis was fourth on the team with 33 3-pointers, made 135 assists and averaged 5.6 points per game.
Lee averaged 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds per game last year with 27 blocks.
Forward Derek Willis and guard Dominique Hawkins also return for their junior seasons and will be counted on for bigger contributions. But with half the roster headed to the NBA and a talented incoming class needing guidance, Kentucky needs leadership more than ever.
"We have an entire new team coming in, but with the leadership of me, Marcus and Alex, I feel like we'll be fine," Ulis said.
Poythress is ready for more responsibility after having his season cut short.
"It's been real tough, a struggle and a journey," Poythress said. "It will be all worth it when I finish rehab and everything. Things happen for a reason and God has plans for me and I'm just trying to work out that plan."
Poythress started eight of Kentucky's first 10 games last season on the blue platoon, half of the Wildcats' talented 10-deep roster that rotated in four- or five-minute stretches. He averaged 5.5 points and 3.8 rebounds per game before the injury that opened the door for 6-11 Trey Lyles to step up and provide a formidable frontcourt as the Wildcats pursued becoming unbeaten champions.
In the meantime, Poythress quietly worked on rehabilitating the knee and expects to be ready next season.
"I'm coming along good and rehab is going really well," Poythress said. "I'm jogging right now and doing some jumping and stuff. I'm just progressing. I'll be fine before the season starts. I'm just taking it one day at a time, not rushing it or anything."