By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s hard to imagine a better way to start a collegiate career than what Tyrese Maxey did Tuesday night in New York.
In a 69-62 win over No. 1 Michigan State, Maxey did it all for Kentucky in his first game on the national stage.
He had 26 points on 7-for-13 shooting from the field and 9-for-10 at the foul line. It was the most points ever by a Kentucky freshman in his debut ahead of Terrence Jones (25), Eric Bledsoe (24), Anthony Davis (23) and Julius Randle (23). Only one other player — Mike Casey with 28 in 1967 as a sophomore — has ever scored more points in his first UK game.
“I feel like Coach Cal told me to be ready as soon as you get in. ‘You know what you are doing. You work hard every day.’ He said just go play and that’s what I did and had a lot of fun,” Maxey said.
Coach John Calipari had a lot of fun watching him, too.
“What I saw today was what I saw in high school. I had not seen it before today (at UK),” Calipari said about Maxey’s scoring.
His biggest shot might have been the deep, deep 3-pointer he hit with 59.9 seconds to play to stop a Michigan State rally and push UK’s lead to 65-60.
But it was more than scoring. He had a late steal that he turned into a layup for Ashton Hagans. He had five defensive rebounds, including three in the final three minutes. He played against a team known for its defense and had just one turnover.
“Every time they needed a basket, he came up big,” ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said. “Maxey’s speed just electrifies me. His speed is something else.”
Yes it is. So is that infectious smile that never stops. He has fun playing and it’s impossible not to have that rub off on teammates.
He’s also fearless. The game is never going to be too big for him. When he got matched up against Michigan State senior Cassius Winston, the preseason pick for national player of the year, he never flinched. Winston had 21 points four assists and two rebounds but he also had four turnovers.
Maxey tried to even downplay his clutch three in the final minute. He said he took the same shot a “1,000 times in high school” along with this summer.
“I knew I was going to knock it down,” Maxey said.
He also wasn’t about to gloat. That’s not his style.
“I played okay. I played to win and am excited for my team,” Maxey said.
That’s Maxey. Always team-oriented and about winning. He said the best memory for him was seeing the game end with UK ahead.
“I am just happy for my teammates,” he said.
His birthday was Monday and he called the win an “amazing birthday celebration” but also said he would not “want to go to war with anybody else” other than his current teammates.
My guess is that his teammates feel the same way about him.