Heroes and legends have been made when Kentucky has taken the floor in Madison Square Garden during the three instances they’ve played in the State Farm Champions Classic and on Tuesday night, Tyrese Maxey added his name to the list that previously included Anthony Davis and Malik Monk.
It was here that Maxey not only became the biggest name in college basketball for one of its biggest nights on the calendar, but it was “HERE” that Maxey became a star in the making.
(It wasn’t the Champions Classic, but you can certainly add John Wall’s name to this list for his coming-out party against Connecticut during Calipari’s first season.)
Davis dominated from start to finish during Kentucky’s victory against Kansas on their way to Calipari’s lone title later that season, while Monk sniped from every part of the floor in Kentucky’s victory over Michigan State a few short years ago.
On Tuesday, it was Maxey’s turn to greet the nation with a wonderful 26-point, five-rebound performance against the top-ranked Spartans to kick off Kentucky’s season on a high note, including a ridiculous dagger from deep that would’ve made the likes of Steph Curry and Damian Lillard proud. It definitely made Wall proud at his courtside seat.
It’s pretty wild how just one game can change everything.
Nobody was expecting Maxey to come off the bench all season, but it was still a bit surprising to not see him in the starting five for Tuesday’s showdown.
And you know what? It didn’t matter, because Maxey played more minutes than any other Wildcat (32) and took three more shot attempts (12) than his nearest teammate, establishing himself as Kentucky’s go-to guy already in the young season.
(Another added bonus: Maxey drained nine of his 10 free throws on Tuesday night. Sparty shot 18 as an entire team, while the Cats shot 25-of-32 from the charity stripe as a unit.)
When you take an even deeper dive into Maxey’s big night on Broadway, you’ll see what’s going to make him such a valuable asset not only for this Kentucky side this season, but in his soon-to-be NBA career.
Maxey with a .615 3PR, a .769 FTR and a strong .732 TS after one game against one of the best defenses in the country.— TS% Eliot (@Cosmis) November 6, 2019
He can take and make the 3-ball (three makes in seven attempts on Tuesday), get to the line off the dribble (nine makes in 10 attempts) and not only score, but score efficiently (seven makes on 12 attempts). That’s what NBA teams want to see from a 6-foot-3 guard that can play on and off the ball.
Maxey's explosion has looked great pic.twitter.com/pjm0MAnwX6— Max Carlin (@maxacarlin) November 6, 2019
Something that stood out among the plethora of positives from Maxey’s performance in his debut was his touch around the basket. It was clear to see even on Maxey’s first make from the field.
The elite point guards at the next level not only have this kind of shot in their bags, but this type of soft touch. Maxey showed off that touch all night and it was quite impressive to not only see him use his speed attacking the basket, but using such gentleness on his attempts around the rim when it was needed.
Maxey showed off his touch not once, but twice down the stretch in key spots for the Cats where they were able to fend off the Spartans seemingly every time they looked to make a push and take control.
Maxey’s burst is going to be such a weapon and this is a prime example of how.
Kentucky’s lead was trimmed to just three with Sparty on a big run and looking to seize the contest, but Maxey calmed things down just like that. Not only did he get to the basket in the blink of an eye, he threw up a high shot off the window that not even Anthony Davis himself could get a hand on.
This might have been Maxey’s biggest non-3-pointer play of the evening to put Kentucky up six inside of the final 2:30.
Maxey had been “the guy” all night and this was another play that showed just how true that was for the Cats. He takes the high ball-screen from Nick Richards and drives left towards the rim. He takes the contact against 6-foot-8 Thomas Kithier and gets off a tough shot off the glass and in to keep the Spartans at bay again before the big shot shortly after.
Kentucky didn’t look at their best in transition, which ... it’s the first full week of November ... so, there’s no need to panic about that (along with other things), but Maxey drained a deep triple before that deep triple later in the night off a Sparty miss that many in the BBN and Calipari himself go, “Wait, no! No! No! ... YES!”
This play from the first half showed off one of Maxey’s other skills and that’s drawing fouls. Maxey can really shoot it, but on a personal note, to see him be this aggressive in his debut off the bench was one of the main positives from a night full of them.
Kentucky has plenty of questions that will need answers down the line, but one’s things for certain: Tyrese Maxey is here.