Tyrese Maxey talks about UK’s class and being a leader
The smiles are contagious when Tyrese Maxey is on the basketball court.
Maxey — a 6-foot-4 guard from Texas and a future Kentucky Wildcat — is one of 24 McDonald’s All-Americans in Atlanta for this week’s game. His positive presence has made him a popular figure at the annual all-star showcase.
It all starts with that smile.
“He’s got one of those Madison Avenue smiles, and guys like being around him,” said Gilbert Christian (Ariz.) head coach Kurt Keener, who’s in charge of Maxey’s West squad this week.
Whenever the UK signee’s name was mentioned, smiles quickly followed.
“His smile is infectious,” said Cole Anthony, one of the top guards in the country. “When he smiles, I end up smiling, too.”
“That’s just his infectious personality,” added fellow Texas native Samuell Williamson, a Louisville signee. “He’s always been that way. He’s always smiling when he’s on the court, and people are always saying that he looks like he’s having fun, which he genuinely is. It’s always fun going out there and competing with him.”
Kahlil Whitney — the other UK commitment in this week’s game — is teammates with Maxey on the West squad, and the two have often been paired up in drills and scrimmages.
“Me and Tyrese is like cookies and cream. We click,” Whitney said. “‘Rese has always got a smile on his face — trying to be energetic and get the guys going. If a teammate is not hitting his shots, he’ll pat him on the butt and be like, ‘Yo, let’s go.’ … He’s always encouraging, and that’s what I like about my point guard.”
Early in Monday morning’s practice session, Maxey’s group won out on a drill and the losing side had to do pushups before everyone moved on to the next one. As those players were on the ground, Maxey hovered a few feet away, slightly bent over with his arms outstretched. He was waiting to give an encouraging handshake to the losing side.
The future Wildcat equates leadership with positivity, and it’s certainly worked so far.
“I’m someone who’s going to make their teammates feel good about themselves,” he said. “I’m always going to get on my teammates — just like I want them to get on me when I’m not performing — but I just feel like as long as you make your teammates feel better and make everybody around you better, you’re doing a good job.”
Maxey came into this week with a reputation as one of the best backcourt players in the country. He’s the No. 9 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings for the 2019 class and has been committed to Kentucky for nearly a year.
His role next season will depend on who stays and who goes off the current UK squad — John Calipari has told Maxey that he’ll likely play a mix of on and off the ball as a freshman — and that suits him just fine.
Blending in and bringing people together is part of his skill set, something Calipari recognized early in the recruiting process.
“He just tells me that he likes the way I smile and my personality,” Maxey said. “He thinks it affects others, and I think it does, too. Me being happy when I’m on the court — it affects you, makes you want to be happy. It makes you want to play with somebody.”
Keener said he sees Maxey as a “prototype Kentucky point guard,” a natural leader who has a sense of energy and flow with the know-how to put his teammates in the best spots to succeed.
Maxey’s personality, Keener said, is particularly crucial for the point guard position: “Absolutely, it’s essential. Because they have the ball in their hands, and they have the power to distribute. If the point guard is a selfish-oriented player, a me-oriented player, the team will struggle. If he’s a we-oriented player — and I think Tyrese Maxey is that — then guys want to come and play with him, and the guys that are playing with him are enjoying it.”
It became apparent throughout this week’s practice sessions that — whenever a new drill was implemented — Maxey was the first one to go through it, almost like he was chosen by the coaches to demonstrate it to his teammates. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. It was just an example of Tyrese being Tyrese.
“That’s the old cliché, ‘The cream rises.’ He understands that, ‘OK, I’m the leader. So when it comes to doing things first, I’m going to jump in there and do it.’ It’s not anything that we talked about at all,” Keener said. “That’s just part of the natural Tyrese.”
McDonald’s All-American games
Girls’ game: 5 p.m. (ESPN2)
Boys’ game: 7 p.m. (ESPN2)