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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Friday / January 18.
  • John Calipari checks in on Tyrese Maxey, Matthew Hurt, Cole Anthony in Canada

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    ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO — Fresh off watching Justify win the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes in New York on Saturday, Kentucky coach John Calipari made an appearance here Monday night to watch several top prospects in a blowout of epic proportions.

    Calipari and assistant Tony Barbee were among the coaches courtside for Tyrese Maxey, Matthew Hurt and Cole Anthony as the U.S. destroyed Panama, 118-26, in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship at the Meridian Centre.

    “He just tries to help me get better always, tells me the things I need to work on,” Maxey, a Class of 2019 Kentucky commit, said of his future coach after going for 12 points and 3 assists in the lopsided loss. “He’s just checking in, saying hello all the time, asks me how I’m doing.”

    In addition to keeping tabs on Maxey, Calipari and Barbee are also involved for the 6-foot-9 Hurt and the 6-3 Anthony. Anthony had 14 points and 3 assists in the win and Hurt went for 8 points and 8 rebounds. Maxey says he’s in their ears a little, too, about coming to Kentucky.

    “Of course, I always talk to them, joke with them about Kentucky but it comes down to their decision,” Maxey said.

    Hurt is considering a Who’s Who of elite schools, including Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana, Minnesota and Memphis, and plans to cut his list later this summer.

    “I’m going to cut my list after AAU season, so around August right now,” Hurt said. “Around seven or eight [schools], I think.”

    Kansas coach Bill Self is coaching the Americans, and has started Hurt and Kansas native Jeremiah Robinson-Earl — two Kansas targets — along with Kansas-bound guard Quentin Grimes in both games so far, something that’s not lost on the other coaches here.

    “Really, we’re playing a four-guard lineup because Hurt is a guard,” Self said. “And our team, if you really look at it, the strength of our team is probably its perimeter quickness and we’ve got four bigs that we can play. But some games we may only play three of those guys and I think our team is better when we can stretch it and drive it. And we’re certainly better when we have four guards in there.”

    For his part, Maxey enjoys playing for the Naismith Hall of Fame Kansas coach.

    “It’s great,” he said of being a Kentucky commit playing for a Kansas coach. “I mess with him a lot about it. He’s really cool. Today he gave us a long speech talking about just playing for USA, how he would be happy every day. I think that’s one of the reasons why we started so strong and came out fast today.”

    Meantime, Maxey and Anthony have developed a strong bond as well.

    “We see each other at a lot of camps, but I first talked to him at NextGen USA and that was down at the Final Four and he’s really cool,” Maxey said of Anthony. “He’s very high-energy, he’s always high up and he’s a good friend to be around.”

    Anthony returned the compliment.

    “I love Tyrese, he’s a high-energy guy,” he said. “Always smiling, love Tyrese. That’s my dude. I would love to play with him at the next level.”

    Still, Anthony said Maxey isn’t overwhelming him with recruiting.

    “He doesn’t mention it that often,” he said. “He’s brought it up a couple times, we’ve talked about it obviously but my recruitment, I’m wide open. I’m not really worried about that. I just tell him to keep on getting better.”

    Anthony, the son of former NBA point guard Greg Anthony, likely won’t decide until the spring signing period. Several schools thought to be highly involved for him — most notably Duke and Villanova — have not yet appeared this week in Canada. (Duke-bound R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson are not in the event after both had been possibilities.)

    Michigan coach John Beilein and assistant Luke Yaklich, Louisville’s Chris Mack and Luke Murray and assistants from Oregon, Ohio State and Wake Forest are among those here for Anthony.

    “The coaches who were at the game were there to make sure the players know they want them and are at the game,” Self said.

    Anthony’s PSA Cardinals AAU team is holding a Combine at the Westtown (PA) School on July 22, and Anthony believes he’ll have a much better feel for who is recruiting him based on which schools attend that.

    “We have no idea when it’s going to happen,” Anthony said of a decision.

    Self said Anthony, who leads the EYBL in scoring at 25.6 points per game to go along with 7.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists, is improving as a decision-maker.

    “He’s tough, he can really shoot the basketball, he can score,” Self said. “He can certainly make plays for himself in the pain and I think he’s really getting better and trying to make plays for others, too. He was really close to having a lot of assists in the second half and for whatever reason, he was just a little bit off. But I think he’s really trying to be aggressive and still be a point guard. I think he’s got a pretty good balance of that.”

    The USA has a loaded group of guards and Maxey believes that will help prepare him for life at Kentucky, where he could team up with Ashton Hagans, who is reclassifying to 2018 from 2019. Calipari’s recent comments about Hagans led to a minor NCAA violation because Hagans has not yet signed an NLI with Kentucky.

    For his part, Maxey considered reclassifying to 2018 — which would’ve added to the point guard glut at Kentucky that will now include Hagans, Quade Green and Immanuel Quickley — but opted against it.

    “I talked to my family a lot about it, a lot of long nights. and we just came to the conclusion that it would be best for me to keep progressing my game, get a little bit stronger before college,” Maxey said.

    He said part of the decision was the desire to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game and other top all-star contests.

    “Of course, you work so hard all your life to play in certain all-star games, just have certain experiences,” he said. “That’s one thing I wanted to do.”

    Still, he’s glad to have his recruitment in the rear view mirror.

    “I’m happy,” he said. “I’m probably the most happy person in the world. When I committed I was very at peace with my decision and I know that’s where I wanted to go so I’m at peace.”

    Maxey says playing alongside Anthony, Grimes and the other guards here will prepare him for Kentucky.

    “It helps a lot because of course Coach Cal likes to be guard heavy which is also really good,” he said. “We have a lot of good guards on the floor that can make good decisions so being on the floor with these guys helps me a lot.”

    For his part, Self is highly impressed with Maxey’s play.

    “Oh he’s been great,” Self said. “He’s probably been as good a player as we’ve had here the first two games. He’s unselfish but he can score. I’m impressed with him because he can really score the ball but he’s really played like a controlled guard. He hasn’t taken bad shots and certainly he’s looked to make the extra pass when possible. He’s going to be a really good player who’s going to play a long time.”

    Photo: USA Basketball

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.