If you had a freshman coming off the bench at Madison Square Garden to become a household name on college basketball’s opening night, you’re a better prognosticator than most.
Last Tuesday, against the No. 1 ranked Michigan State Spartans, Kentucky Wildcats freshman Tyrese Maxey did just that.
The semantics might be in the results. Kentucky defeated Michigan State, but there’s only so much anyone should take away from a single game to start the season. After all, we’re only a year removed from the Wildcats getting bashed by the Duke Blue Devils, leading to all sorts of hyperbolic declarations eventually proven wrong.
As for Maxey, he raised the bar of expectations by scoring 26 points, including a clutch shot from beyond the arc with less than a minute remaining, inserting the figurative death nail in Michigan State’s fictitious coffin.
A college basketball loving nation might have been somewhat surprised; although the guard was not.
“Honestly, I just trust my training,” Maxey said. “I shot that shot a thousand times.”
By the time it was all said and done, the 6-foot-3 guard made seven of his 12 attempts from the floor and three of seven from beyond the arc. For good measure, he added five rebounds.
However, Maxey’s counting-stats do not happen to be the story to follow. Instead, it’s the usage of him to start the game, then how he finished it.
Reputable recruiting service outlets had him slotted as one of the 15 or so best players in the 2019 recruiting class. Despite that, John Calipari had Maxey come off the bench in a game that could prove to have monster ramifications come Selection Sunday.
This wasn’t a risky move, as proven guards were ahead of him on the depth chart. Nevertheless, it was a tactic to allow Maxey to enter the contest with the force of 1,000 suns, resulting in an efficient performance similar to volume-shooting sixth-men often provide in the NBA.
“I wanted him to come in firing,” Calipari mentioned when discussing the youngster coming off the bench.
And firing he did… to the point he was college basketball’s breakout star. Those who were previously caught up in the James Wiseman, or other highly touted freshmen hype, are now fully aware of who the young guard from Kentucky is.
Time is undefeated. Only it will tell us if this sort of stellar performance from the electric guard is sustainable. As mentioned earlier, it’s tough to play small sample theater after only 40 minutes of basketball.
Even with that being the case, Tyrese Maxey didn’t score 26 points against some team no one ever heard of at an arena few people knew existed. He did so against the top ranked team in the country within the confines of the World’s Most Famous Arena.
It’s not hyperbolic to suggest that kind of performance should be considered a revelation, even if more so closer to important than a fun opening slate aside that will eventually be a strange anecdote at the season’s end.
If he can do it there, against that team and in that environment, there’s little reason to bet against him doing it again. He’s unlikely to do it consistently, but he’s now proven he is capable. Maxey is a threat. It’s something opposing teams will need to plan against.
A worse turn of events could have happened on Tuesday night for Big Blue Nation. It did last year. This season, it didn’t. Rather, everything was coming up Maxey.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared on Forbes, but has been republished under the original author’s name at CBBToday thanks to the publisher-contributor agreement.
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