‘My game was ready to go to the next level’ — The Undefeated

Kentucky freshman guard Tyrese Maxey announced Monday that he declared for the 2020 NBA draft in a world facing many unknowns due to the deadly coronavirus.

The draft is still scheduled for June 25 in Brooklyn, New York. But with the 2019-20 season suspended indefinitely, with no return in sight due to COVID-19, it’s uncertain when any NBA events will take place.

“It’s very confusing. I just been taking it day by day and trying not to worry about that,” Maxey, 19, told The Undefeated. “What you try to worry about right now is cherishing these moments with your family and also work on yourself, work on your body, work on things that you need to work on before you step in front of these NBA teams.”

Maxey averaged 14 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in his lone season at Kentucky. ESPN ranks the Dallas native as the eighth-best prospect in the draft.

Maxey talked to The Undefeated about his entrance into the draft, how the coronavirus abruptly ended his freshman season, and the advice he was given from Kentucky head coach John Calipari.

How do you feel about your decision to enter the draft?

It feels great to make this decision public. I did a lot of conversations with my family over the past couple of weeks and I felt like I was ready to make this jump. The determining factor is that I went through a very good year at the University of Kentucky. … I feel like my game was ready to go to the next level.

How are you preparing for the draft during the pandemic?

I’m just trying to keep myself in shape. It’s kind of hard to get in the gym because everything is shut down because of the coronavirus. … I’m doing pushups, running on the treadmill, jogging around the house. Anything I could do to find a way to get 1% better every single day. …

We have a park that’s, like, maybe three minutes from my house and no one was there. Me and my dad were shooting there a couple of days ago. You know that went well. Got to shoot against the wind like you’re doing all those days growing up. But that was cool and it just felt good to feel that motion in the ball again.

If you were to work out for the team owning the No. 1 pick in the draft, how would you sell yourself?

I’m someone who works hard, brings a lot of energy. I’m always going to have positive energy, try to keep a smile on my face and I feel like I’m competitive. I feel like coach Cal and his staff really instilled in all our guys at the University of Kentucky a competitive spirit and a will to win.

On March 12, you posted a sad face emoji on social media. That was the day when the 2020 Southeastern Conference tournament was canceled before you had a chance to play in it. Tell us about your emotions on that day.

That was a very emotional day. We got to walk on the court and do a little shootaround for like 30 minutes. We were all excited and as soon as we got off the court, the news broke that the SEC tournament had been shut down. And it was just, it was crazy. Just a surreal moment because we just got to step on the court and saw the arena. … It was sad. And then later on that day, they canceled the entire season. So, it was a very crazy turn of events. Different emotions were going through my head and my teammates’ head as well.

How much does it pain you that you will never know what your team would have done in the NCAA and SEC tournaments?

It hurts just from a team aspect. We put in so much work in the offseason and during the season. We go through a lot of adversity to get ready for the tournament. You play a lot of games, practice. … It hurts even though it was the right decision. I feel like that today, but it hurts not to know what the outcome would have been.

What advice did coach Calipari give you on your decision to go pro?

One thing he told me was to go out there and fight for what you want. And I think that’s one thing he installed in every one of his players from day one. Me especially, because he wanted me to go out there and have a competitive nature and that’s why he lined us up against each other every single day. He had a lot of guys going after each other at practice. And he wants us to carry that into the NBA.

Who do you pattern your NBA game after?

I’d say some of CJ McCollum and some Lou Williams, by just the way they are able to create shots and get their teammates involved.

Why was it important to announce that you were going to the NBA on April 6, the same day the NCAA tournament championship game was supposed to take place?

We had a good enough team and I felt like we were rolling. I feel like we would’ve been in this game today and that’s the one reason why I wanted to make the decision today. April 6 was written down on my calendar.

I dreamed it. Every college basketball player dreamed about playing in the tournament, diving for a loose ball for a play or blocking a shot or getting a defensive stop late in the game and just being excited with your teammates and celebrating with them. And that’s what was on my wall. It was a goal of mine. I want to be able to be a part of something special and win a national championship. So, I always looked at where I was by my goals … and put them on the mirror when I brush my teeth so I can see them every single day, every single morning and every single night. And that was the reason why I had April 6 written down.

How will you remember your time at Kentucky?

I had a blast at Kentucky. I made a lot of lifetime friends. I played for a Hall of Fame coach who pushed me extremely hard to get better every single day.

If COVID-19 keeps NBA draft prospects from attending the event, what do you think it would be like not being able to shake commissioner Adam Silver’s hand after being selected?

It will be very different. Not what you dreamed of. I feel like you’re still reaching your dreams to a certain extent. You’re making that next-level jump. Every basketball player dreams of walking across the stage and shaking the commissioner’s hand. But if this is best for our country, to not have a draft and have big congregations like that then, so be it. … I’ll celebrate wherever I am, however they do it. As long as I get to hear my name called, I guess I’ll celebrate with my family.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.

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