At the conclusion of the McDonald’s All-American Game this past spring, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Tyrese Maxey told KSR that he was champing at the bit to get to Lexington so he could be coached by John Calipari.
In fact, he thanked the Kentucky head coach at the time for giving him the opportunity to suit up in blue and white.
“Man, I cannot wait. I can’t wait,” Maxey said at the time. “Everybody says, “Oh, Coach Cal is going to be yelling at you.” I’m like, “No, he’s going to be coaching me. He’s going to make me a lot better than I am today. I thank him a lot for that, giving me the opportunity to come to Kentucky.”
Ask and you shall receive, Mr. Maxey.
Following Kentucky’s victory over Vanderbilt on Wednesday evening, Calipari told reporters during his postgame press conference that Maxey is the player he is hardest on at practice and in games.
He compared the situation to his coaching of Karl-Anthony Towns during the 2014-15 season.
“I used to get on Karl Towns,” he said. “And if I said to the team, “Who do I get on harder than anybody?” They would point to Karl. You ready? And Karl would go like this (Raises arms in the air celebrating). Two days ago I said, “Who am I getting on harder than anybody right now?” They said, Tyrese. And they all pointed to Tyrese. And you know what he did? (Looking down at table sadly.) Kids are all different.”
The reason he’s so hard on Maxey? He knows the former five-star prospect is just scratching the surface as a player.
“I think he’s, he’s good right now, but I think he’s not even touched where he’s going to be in another month,” Calipari said. “If he stays on this path and accepts where he is, that it’s because of him, no one else. And I think he does.”
When asked about Calipari’s comments and his coaching style, Maxey was in complete support of his head coach. As long as Coach Cal has faith in his abilities, he’s going to continue to trust him.
Again, that’s why he came to Kentucky in the first place.
“Coach Cal is the most confident in me,” Maxey said. “He just tells me that I can do a lot better. He always tells me to go out there and play like he knows I can. I just go out there and try to do that. … He told me at the beginning of the year that he was going to coach me as hard as he can. He called me into his office a couple of days ago. He told me it doesn’t matter how I’m playing; he knows what I can do. And he is never going to back off of me.”
The majority of the hard coaching comes in practice, a place Calipari feels Maxey hasn’t been giving it his all this season.
That is, until the freshman guard led the team for the first time in conditioning drills this past week.
“The other guy that finished first for the first time this year in the runs was Tyrese,” Calipari said. “He outran Immanuel. He told on himself. He’s finishing in the middle all year. Why would you have ever finished in the middle if you could have finished first? He told on himself. Now, he still had lapses in this game, but he still was more aggressive and he made some plays, things that he hadn’t been doing.”
When asked about “telling on himself,” Maxey said he was more than okay with it. If he wants to accomplish his goals as a basketball player and make it in the NBA, it starts in practice.
“[Calipari] just knows what I can do,” Maxey said. “I believe in him, and he just tells me to finish first in every single sprint. He said that I feel a lot more confident when I go out on the court, and that’s what I try to do.”
According to Maxey, he was simply selling himself short in practice, and Calipari let him know that.
Once he gets past that mental barrier, he’s going to “reap the benefits” in games, as he proved in his 17-point, four-rebound, two-assist, one-steal performance against Vanderbilt.
“Just being a tougher competitor overall,” Maxey said of his personal goals in the immediate future. “Defensively and in sprints, I think I’ve been selling myself short. I realized that wasn’t good enough for me and what I want to do [as a player]. I want to be competitive in everything I do. … He said the same thing. He told me to go out there and win every single sprint, and if I do, I’m going to reap the benefits when it comes time for games.”