Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey and North Carolina’s Cole Anthony took to Instagram and texting to exchange congratulations after their debuts as college basketball players this week. There was ample reason for good wishes being on a two-way street.
Maxey’s 26 points against Michigan State on Tuesday were the most scored by a UK freshman in his first game. Anthony’s 34 points were the most scored by any Tar Heel in a debut.
“I knew he was going to play well,” Maxey said Thursday of Anthony. “He’s a worker. He prepares.”
UK Coach John Calipari suggested there might have been an element of surprise with how well Maxey played.
“Tyrese has not done that once in practice, not one day,” Calipari said. “As a matter of fact, if you ask who I’ve been toughest on, they will tell you (Maxey).”
After the Michigan State game, Calipari voiced what sounded like discomfort with the smile that seems to come easily to Maxey’s face.
“Ashton (Hagans) steals the ball from him (in practice) and he’s smiling,” Calipari said. “What are you smiling about? Don’t smile. Be mad.”
With a smile, Maxey said he did not welcome having the ball stolen from his grasp.
“I wouldn’t say I was smiling after that,” he said. “It was a good play. It happens in basketball. Like I steal the ball and score a lot on people. Basketball is fun. So that’s why I was smiling.”
Maxey came off the bench against Michigan State. This was an unusual experience for him.
“I never came off the bench in my life,” he said.
Maxey said he had no problem with coming off the bench. He said he would accept any role that Calipari wanted him to play.
“I want to win at all costs,” he said. “Whatever it takes.”
Toughness was the issue going into this Kentucky season. Nate Sestina suggested the victory over Michigan State should ease that concern.
“Everybody was worried about our toughness,” he said. Michigan State reduced a 13-point deficit with less than 10 minutes left to two points with more than a minute remaining.
“Us pulling the game out just shows how mentally tough we are,” Sestina said. “We were able to shut a team down and continue to play defense for 40 minutes.”
Calipari saluted UK’s defense. Michigan State made only 39.2 percent of its shots (19.2 percent from three-point range).
“This is my 11th year,” he said of his time as UK coach. “I’m not sure if there’s a couple teams that were better defensively at this point than we were in that game.”
No Smile November
In reaction to the 34-point loss to Duke that opened last season, Ashton Hagans announced Kentucky’s motto to open this season as “No Smile November.”
Sestina said UK players adopted that motto, but showed exceptions could be made.
“If you walked into the locker room before the game, it was silent,” he said. “Everybody was serious and locked in and ready to go.”
A 69-62 victory over Michigan State changed the mood.
‘Fastest 40 minutes’
In Eastern Kentucky, UK plays a team Friday night that wants to be known as playing a style that is described as “the fastest 40 minutes in sports.”
Second-year coach A.W. Hamilton said he wants a fast pace to help brand the program and give it an identity.
EKU ranked second nationally last season in pace (averaging 78.8 possessions per game) and 13th in scoring (82.6 ppg).
The Colonels also want to press the entire game, which helps explain how EKU ranked second in steals (10.2 per game) and opponents’ turnovers (18.3 per game).
This will be a new look for Kentucky to face, Calipari said. He noted how Kentucky State surprised the Cats in the second exhibition game by playing a 2-3 zone instead of the expected man-to-man.
“If you think we looked confused, we (were) confused,” Calipari said.
A fast pace can have a downside. In its opening-game 79-68 victory over Chattanooga, EKU committed 24 turnovers.
Freshman Michael Moreno, who scored 2,383 points and grabbed 1,317 rebounds for Scott County High School, played only three minutes against Chattanooga. Hamilton said he’s taking a careful, conservative approach with Moreno, who broke a foot twice in the last year and has only practiced for less than two weeks.
The EKU coach’s name is Archibald William Hamilton VI. A son was born this summer and given the name Archibald William Hamilton VII.
His maternal grandfather balked at a child being called “Archie,” so he has gone by his initials, the EKU coach said.
His wife likes the name Archie, so that will be his son’s nickname, the EKU coach said.
Tom Hart and former Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy will call the game for the SEC Network.