Michigan State freshman Max Christie not deterred by pressure of potential, expectations
When it comes to Max Christie, there’s no doubt how Tom Izzo feels.
“This kid is going to be a player,” Izzo said. “He’s legitimate.”
Of course, Izzo is not alone when it comes to the 6-foot-6 wing from Arlington Heights, Illinois. A five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American, Christie was one of the top players in the 2021 recruiting class, ranked No. 17 overall by both 247Sports and Rivals.
Naturally, plenty is expected of a player of that caliber, and it will be no different at Michigan State.
The Spartans will be counting on Christie to make an immediate impact as they try and rebound from what can be considered a subpar season, one that ended with a 15-13 record and a loss in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.
Christie is up to the task. However, he’s also doing his best not to put too much pressure on himself.
“I definitely think that there are some expectations for me,” Christie said Monday as he continued to adjust to living in East Lansing. “Everybody wants me to be this certain type of player or produce this amount of numbers. But going into it for the first time, it’s just being able to make everything a learning experience. There’s got to be some sort of pressure on me that everybody wants me to do this and that, but I'm just going in with the mindset that I've worked hard my entire life for this moment and the work will take care of itself.
“Whether it’s ups and downs, whether it's a bad game, good game, whatever it may be, I'm gonna make sure that I'm getting through and I'm learning something out of it the whole time.”
Like most freshmen, Christie has plenty to learn. He is, however, well ahead of the game when it comes to putting the ball in the basket. A fluid shooter who can score from anywhere on the court, he could be a perfect fit as the Spartans’ next shooting guard.
Of course, he will have to defend at a high level in the Big Ten and he’ll need to put on a few pounds to handle the rigors of conference play. He’s currently checking in at 190 pounds with the plan to be a sturdy 200 by the time the season tips off in November.
It’s all part of making the leap from high school to college, and it’s what Christie and fellow freshmen Jaden Akins and Pierre Brooks will be focusing on this summer.
“The strength and the speed of the game, it's different at every single level and that's the biggest transition for every basketball player,” Christie said. “When you go from level to level, the speed of the game — especially here with how fast we play — is certainly different from a high school game. And then just the strength of all the players that I’ll be going against, my teammates and all that sort of stuff.
“It’s definitely a bit of a transition, but I think I've been handling it well for the most part.”
To make that transition, Christie is leaning on veterans like Gabe Brown to offer any tips on college life while he’s happy to have Brooks, who should be on campus soon as he finishes up high school, and Akins along for the ride.
“It’s really nice to have two other freshmen that are in the same shoes as me, in terms of it's our first time in college,” Christie said. “We don't know really what to expect, so it’s really good to just experience everything together for the first time. And, of course, we obviously have our upperclassmen, our seniors and our sophomores and juniors, who can really help us out with anything.
“But we really rely on each other to make sure that we're going through everything together, we're experiencing everything for the first time together.”
The arrival of Christie, Akins and Brooks — together they make up the 10th-ranked recruiting class in the nation — has rekindled expectations at Michigan State. Along with the addition of point guard Tyson Walker, a transfer from Northeastern, the Spartans are expecting a quick bounce-back from last season, which snapped a three-year streak of Big Ten championships.
Add in the hope that Brown will have a big senior season along with Joey Hauser and the continued development of players like Malik Hall and Marcus Bingham, and the Spartans will be thinking another conference title is a realistic goal.
With that, though, the pressure of expectation returns, and Christie will be doing his best to navigate it all.
“People have a lot of expectations, and we’re just trying to make sure that we're leaning on each other and making sure that we're giving each other support and encouraging each other the whole time, every single day,” Christie said. “Just make sure that sometimes we can take a little bit of that pressure off of our backs and just to have fun. We’re in college. I'm 18 years old, and I have no reason to really be stressed about what other people think about me and how I really play basketball.
“So I'm just going to live my life and my teammates really help me with that, just making sure that they're encouraging me and I'm encouraging them so we just have a good time with each other.”