- Next up in our freshman intro series is Tyrese Maxey, the headliner of Kentucky's No. 2 recruiting class.
In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.
With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 10 overall recruit, Kentucky's Tyrese Maxey. You can view all of the profiles to date here.
What He Means for Kentucky’s Recruiting Class
The headliner of Calipari’s No. 2 ranked recruiting class, five-star guard Tyrese Maxey brings a ton of talent to Lexington as one of five freshmen joining the Wildcats. Already an impressive shooter, Maxey is arguably the biggest spectacle on what seems to be a promising 2019 Kentucky team. He’s the only guard in a class completed by five-star small forwards Khalil Whitney (No. 11), Keion Brooks (No. 24) and four-star wings Johnny Juzang (No. 34) and Dontaie Allen (No. 92) but joins two former five-star guards in the backcourt. Immediately-eligible transfer Nate Sestina from Bucknell, a center, is the last new face coming to Kentucky this season as Calipari rebuilds in light of the loss of last season’s starting five. Maxey should make an immediate impact and brings a ton of upside on both sides of the floor. Kentucky’s guard group needed a boost after Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson went pro while Quade Green transferred to Washington, and they certainly got it with Maxey’s commitment.
How He Fits
This team should still belong to Ashton Hagans, but Maxey will undoubtedly give the sophomore point guard a run for his money as the team’s biggest backcourt asset. As one of the most well-rounded and highly-regarded freshman in the 2019 class, Maxey should make an immediate impact at the two with last year’s star shooting guard, Tyler Herro, now busy dripping all over Miami. With Hagans running the floor again after taking the reins in 2018 and Maxey a likely starter, returner Immanuel Quickley is expected to come off the bench for some relief between both slots.
Maxey began his recruitment as a point guard but made his name as much more than a floor general as the process went on. He’s an efficient ball handler and playmaker but differentiated himself as a truly elite shooter who also can, and still does, create for his teammates. While it’s hard to pinpoint a glaring weakness in Maxey’s game, it would have to be that he does sometimes seem to struggle with finding a balance between distributing and scoring. A projected lottery pick, Maxey averaged 22.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.7 steals his senior season. Maxey’s ability to make shots is fueled by the fact that he can score at all three levels. He’s one of the top perimeter players in the class with a dangerous jump shot that falls at a high clip, and he can also finish around the rim.
His entertainment value also can’t be undersold. Fitting into the Kentucky mold, Maxey was made for highlight reels and SportsCenter 'Top 10' segments. He’s athletic, dynamic and explosive with the speed to get quickly down court, the skill to shoot it from anywhere on the floor and the smarts to make the most strategic play 99% of the time. The Garland, Texas native is a savvy player with a sky-high basketball IQ. His decision-making was one of the first things Calipari noted about Maxey as a prospect. The 6’3”, 198-pound McDonald’s All-American comes to Kentucky with a strong frame and an ability to play a tough and physical game despite being slightly undersized. He’s a strong defender with plenty of upside on the other end of the floor and a willing rebounder who should wreak havoc alongside Hagans.
In the frontcourt, Calipari has plenty of options. Whitney should slide into the three slot, with fellow freshman Brooks helping between there and the four. Juzang, the best sharpshooter of the group, will likely see the floor in more of a guard/forward combo role between the two and three slots on the wing as needed. Sestina should see significant time down low, while Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery also provide experienced options to rotate in at the four and five. Allen is also available off the bench for relief for the forward group. A ton of talent departed but Calipari should be able to rebuild pretty readily up front with his new crew.
Importance to Kentucky's Success/Team Outlook
Four 2018-19 starters are gone, but the Wildcats' wildly talented five-man incoming class should bring enough talent to reload in Lexington, and Maxey can definitely help make up for the lost scoring. Kentucky brings back an experienced floor general in Hagans, which hopefully means an easy transition for Maxey to the college level. He’s the shooter Calipari needed, but he isn’t one dimensional and can help all across the floor. The rest of the newcomers will bring depth both on the wing and in the frontcourt, but none bring as much to the table as Maxey. Kentucky has set itself up for a season that should see quicker success and greater consistency than last season. Don’t be surprised if there’s a deep, Maxey-led March Madness run in store for the Wildcats come spring.