For Michigan State freshman Max Christie, Bahamas struggles part of 'growing process'
East Lansing — There are going to be tough games and difficult stretches for every freshman, even the most highly rated.
Shots won’t fall, loose balls will bounce to the other team and it will all lead to frustration.
What separates the best from the rest, however, is how they respond to adversity many have never really experienced.
For Michigan State’s Max Christie, last week’s trip to the Bahamas in the Battle 4 Atlantis stands as the first real test for the talented 6-foot-6 wing. In three games, he scored nine points while going 4-for-21 from the field, including 1-for-9 from 3-point range as he became the focal point of opposing defenses.
However, instead of seeing it as a negative, Christie is determined to make it the opposite as No. 22 Michigan State (5-2) prepares to host Louisville on Wednesday in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“I'm not worried at all, to be honest,” Christie said. “This past weekend, even though I may not have shot the ball well, I think I did other things well other than scoring — rebounding, assisting, running the floor, playing defense. So, it's bound to happen. You’re going to have these stretches where you're not going to play as well and you’re not gonna shoot as well. So it's all part of the growing process, and I'm not worried at all.”
To be clear, neither is Tom Izzo.
In fact, the Spartans coach has been impressed with how Christie has handled this initial battle with the ball not going in the basket.
“We’ve got to try to get him more and more involved and some of that will fall on us,” Izzo said. “If you watch the shots and when he gets in the ball, he's getting big-time attention. And so, for the first time, he's had to really learn to play through that.
“But as far as how he's handling it, I'm amazed how he's handled it. He’s been great. We just need to get him more shots and he needs to get to the free-throw line some to get some confidence back. So, that is a point of emphasis for us this week, but as far as how he is handling it, he’s off the charts. He’s been great.”
It’s easy to understand considering Christie hardly lacks in confidence. It’s not a cockiness, but there’s no doubt Christie believes in his ability to put the ball in the basket.
He certainly did that early in the season, hitting a couple of 3-pointers in his first college game against Kansas in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden while scoring 18 in a win at Butler, including some huge shots in the second half that helped the Spartans quell any potential rallies from the Bulldogs.
“I'm a really good shooter, to be honest,” Christie said. “So sometimes shots aren’t gonna fall but they’re gonna fall eventually. One game they may not be me, but Steph Curry misses shots sometimes, too. But I mean, it's just something you have to deal with as a shooter, especially. You’ve got to have a short memory. You miss one shot; you go right to the next.”
Christie will get that chance on Wednesday against Louisville (5-1), which is coming off a victory over Maryland in the Bahamas Championship.
“It’s a big game,” Christie said. “They're winning games. They're a great team that has been playing really well so far. So, by no means are we going to take them lightly. We’re going to come at them, we're going to make sure that we're preparing ourselves in order to be the best prepared team that we can going into this game so that we have nothing to worry about.”
And what took place in the Bahamas certainly won’t hurt. Playing against the likes of Loyola, UConn and Baylor, three teams in the top 30 of the KenPom.com rankings, can only help in the long run for the Spartans, but Christie, specifically.
“I think this past tournament was a great experience for me,” Christie said. “Just getting more comfortable, being more confident myself and just getting that experience of playing against great teams. Baylor, UConn, and Loyola are all great teams, and I didn’t have that experience. I think that weekend is going to help me as the season goes on.”
Christie’s struggles last week weren’t completely on him. Sure, he needs to make open shots, but when the Spartans are turning the ball over as often as they are — 20 against Loyola and 19 against Baylor — it can be tough to get in an offensive flow.
To that end, Izzo said cleaning up the turnovers will be priority No. 1 this week. Do that, and things can become easier for the entire offense, including both Christie and Joey Hauser, who also didn’t shoot well.
“I think Max and Joey are two of our better shooters, and Joey, again, had some great looks,” Izzo said. “He rebounded and defended and he too played pretty well, he just missed some wide-open shots. So it's hard to complain about wide-open shots, though I don't think Max got as many wide-open shots. But we clean up the turnovers, we'll get more shots. … But for us to go to another level, I think Max and Joey, we're gonna have to rely on them a little bit more.”
And Christie believes he and the Spartans are ready to reach that level.
“I think it was just a great experience overall,” Christie said. “We learned a bunch of things individually, especially toughness and that will sort of deal. So I think as a team, we grew just over the course of the three games that we played. We learned a lot about ourselves, learned a lot about ourselves as a team and I think just in general we learned just how to be tougher, how to go through a stretch of tough games. We got a lot tougher, mentally tougher.”