From the very beginning of the season, it was obvious Tyrese Maxey was made for big moments. Could there have been a bigger statement than his 26-point performance in his very first collegiate game? Remember, it also came inside of Madison Square Garden, one of the most famous arenas in the country, and it was against the then-No. 1 team in America. Like I said, his ability to showcase his talents on the biggest and brightest stage was obvious.
Following his incredible opening night, Maxey seemed to slow down. Sure, he had other strong performances, like the 21-point outing against Lamar in mid-November and his 18 points in Kentucky’s loss to Utah. But it wasn’t until Kentucky played its in-state rival that Maxey’s true abilities were once again fully on display. Against the Cardinals, UK’s freshman guard racked up 27 points in the Cats’ overtime victory.
It was good to finally see Maxey competing (and scoring) like he did to start the season. In the month between the Lamar and Louisville games, Maxey was 2-for-20 from behind-the-arc. Then, he came out and went 4-for-5 from deep against Louisville. He knew he had it in him.
“I did struggle for a little bit [early in the season], but I never wavered from the work. I always put in the work. I got up early in the morning, stayed up late,” Maxey told reporters Wednesday afternoon. “I knew that it would come back to me, and I’m just glad my teammates stuck with me.”
Then came another big test: Kentucky’s matchup with Georgia. UK’s trip to Athens on Jan. 11 marked the Cats’ first true road game of the season, which is always a challenging game for the team’s newest members.
“I mean, it’s hard. You’re going into a gym you’ve never played in before – unless you’re a veteran, but then you’ve played in it like once or twice,” Maxey said. “It’s difficult.”
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) January 8, 2020
While Maxey’s second-highest scoring night of the season came on the road against Michigan State, the Garden was still full of Kentucky fans. The same can be said about Kentucky’s two games in Vegas. Those may have been “neutral” sites in theory, but those atmospheres were vastly different than the one found inside an actual road game. Georgia was a wakeup call.
“For the freshmen, [Georgia] was our first true road game, so it’s our first time actually being in a gym with all opposing fans. With our neutral sites, most of the gym has been filled with the Big Blue Nation. Then we go there, and it was all red.”
Besides the purely-mental aspect of playing in front of a boo-ing crowd, there are also some “technical” difficulties, according to Maxey.
“It’s hard to hear your coach when he’s talking to you. But you just have to go out there and fight and be one unit.”
Wednesday’s game against South Carolina will be another test. Sure, the lights won’t be quite as bright as they were against the No.1 team in the country or against Kentucky’s bitter rival. Still, it’s an important game for the Cats, and it’s still a true road game.
“The vets say it’s going to be hard, but every road game is hard. You’ve got to go out there and fight as one unit and just be together,” Maxey said.
Even though he knows a challenge lies ahead, Maxey is looking forward to meeting up with the Gamecocks.
“It should be fun. The veterans say it’s going to be a hard place to play. They’re very competitive and very physical. I just can’t wait for the moment.”
The moment will be waiting for him.