Freshman year of college marks the beginning of a tough period of transition for any 18-year-old. Moving out of your parents’ house and into a dorm across the state or even country is a daunting task for all college “rookies.” It’s exponentially more challenging when you add in the pomp and circumstance (not to mention responsibilities and expectations) that come along with playing basketball at the University of Kentucky.
Most of these players are used to being superstars in their high school and in their hometown. Don’t get me wrong: UK basketball players are still treated like superstars on UK’s campus and across the Bluegrass. But they’re no longer the only show in town.
That can sometimes be a tough pill to swallow. It was for Keion Brooks.
“I can’t lie to you, it’s difficult at times. You’re just so used to being able to dominate all the time, and now people are a lot better than what you’re used to. It’s a learning curve, especially being so young,” Brooks Jr. said after Kentucky’s win over Georgia Tech. “You have to get used to the speed and the physicality of the game. There’s a lot that goes on on the college basketball floor that you come in as a freshman and you wouldn’t expect or be used to. The learning curve was difficult, but I think I’m starting to find my groove.”
That “groove” doesn’t come easily, and it certainly takes a bit of time to find.
“The college game, it kind of took me by shock a little bit, just how fast the game is, how physical it is. It took me some time to get adjusted,” Brooks said. “I’m getting the hang of it and I’m getting better.”
After averaging 4.8 points per game in the first five games of the season (including one 11-point night that’s a bit of an outlier), Brooks has bumped his average up to 9.75 points over the last four games. In the Cats’ last two outings, Brooks has really elevated his stats, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds against Georgia Tech Saturday, and 15 points and five rebounds in the game before that against Fairleigh Dickinson.
“It’s night and day. First coming here, I was a little confused and lost at times. But after practices and games, and the constant repetition, I’m really getting the hang of where I’m supposed to be on the floor. It’s been feeling good because I’m more comfortable out there.”
That’s something most college athletes probably experience, especially during their first year within a new program. At a school like Kentucky, that turnover happens even quicker, making the learning curve steeper for each new player who joins a roster stacked with other new names and faces. It could be what’s happening with Tyrese Maxey right now.
After blazing a path for the Cats’ win over then-No. 1 Michigan State with 26 points, Maxey has considerably slowed down. He scored 21 points against Lamar on Nov. 24, but he hasn’t hit double-digit scoring since then. In the last three games, Maxey has averaged five points, 5.33 rebounds, 4.7 assists and less than one steal per game. Against Georgia Tech, he finished 0-9 from the field and 0-3 from behind-the-arc; his six points were all scored from the charity stripe,
That’s a far cry from the Tyrese Maxey we saw light up Madison Square Garden on the first night of the season.
“Tyrese is Tyrese – I’m not worried about him at all,” Brooks shrugged. “When I was struggling earlier, he made sure he picked me up all the time, so I’m making sure I’m doing the same thing. He’s a great player, and he’s going to get out of whatever funk he’s in. It just takes time.”
If Maxey turns things around and takes the right steps forward like Brooks has done in the past two games, the reward will be worth it. It certainly has been for Brooks.
“It’s just like, the work that you’re putting in is finally starting to show and starting to pay off some. I’ve still got a ways to go; I still have to get better in a lot of areas,” Brooks said. “But I feel like I’m heading in the right direction with understanding where I’m supposed to be and simply – like coach says – just fighting and finishing games.”
If he can do that – and keep his numbers around where they’ve been for the past two weekends – Kentucky is in for a treat, learning curve or not.