By LARRY VAUGHT
After Kentucky’s loss at Alabama last Saturday, UK coach John Calipari talked about the atmosphere there even though the students were not on campus and Alabama was playing in the national football championship game two days later in California.
It’s the type of intensity the Wildcats normally face and UK signee Tyrese Maxey, a 6-5 guard at South Garland High School in Texas, is getting some experience with that sensation this year.
“We have got a tiger on our back in Texas this year,” Tyrone Maxey, the player’s father and a South Garland assistant coach, said. “We scheduled tough and dropped a few games early that I think helped wake our team up to finding out that nobody was laying down for us.”
South Garland is adjusting to losing a 6-9 player just before the season started — but Kentucky usually starts over with team chemistry each year and will again next season.
“It has just taken time to for Tyrese to figure out some things but things are getting better. And we are definitely facing some quality competition because the expectation for us this year is to win a state championship,” Tyrone Maxey said.
That’s much like the expectation at Kentucky to win a national championship will be next year — or any season.
During three games at the Kentucky Lake Showcase at Marshall County in late December, Maxey put his diverse skills on display. He averaged 22.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.0 steals per game in the three wins. He had five 3-pointers in one game — and had six assists the same game. Another game he attempted just three 3-pointers, but pulled off 11 rebounds.
“He has a big target on his back being the top player in the state and getting a lot of recognition like he does as a Kentucky signee. Everybody wants to measure themselves against him,” Tyrone Maxey said. “He has handled it well for the most part. Last year he did not really fly under the radar because he got some attention but there’s a lot more attention on him this year after signing with Kentucky. He has had to learn to step it up even another notch with people coming at him.”
In some ways, that has included Kentucky fans who have interacted with Tyrese Maxey both on social media and in person.
“Everywhere we went to play in the summer, there would at least be a sprinkling of UK fans if not more,” Tyrone Maxey said. “He embraces the idea of interacting with fans. It’s a great fan base. There are so many Kentucky fans who have reached out to him in various ways.
“There are so many Kentucky basketball fans anywhere you go. Once he committed, we saw fans everywhere and I imagine we will until he gets to Kentucky … and then we were told it will really get crazy.”
Tyrese Maxey does not have a “best” strength on the court. He can play either guard spot because of his scoring and passing ability. He’s also a tenacious defender because of his length and quickness.
“He just tries to win a basketball game. He does have the ability to score and he can do that, but what people don’t realize about him is that he is really competitive on the defensive end,” his father, a former SMU assistant coach, said. “He rebounds the ball pretty good for a guard, too. Whatever the game presents and whatever he needs to do to win a game, he will do.
“I consider him a scoring point guard. When he was playing with USA Basketball, he could facilitate when he had a bunch of other guys who could score playing with him. He can be a defensive stopper and guard the other team’s best perimeter player. But if I had to pick his best attribute, it would be his scoring.”