Chicago — Forget what the mock drafts say. Forget what the skeptics might say. Forget even what the safe path might be.
Max Christie understands it all, but there’s one thing he’s confident in above anything else — himself.
“I think it’s just betting on myself and being confident in myself and the preparation that I put into this game,” Christie said Thursday from the NBA Draft Combine at Wintrust Arena. “I think that’s just all it really is, just having confidence in myself and knowing that I feel like I’m ready for this level and I’m able to contribute, whenever that time comes.”
That time, Christie believes, is now, and that’s why last week the Michigan State guard hired an agent and said he’s staying in the NBA Draft, set for June 23. His career as a Spartan is over after one up-and-down season.
The 6-foot-6 native of Arlington Heights, Ill., knows some will wonder about his choice. They’ll look at the numbers he put up during his freshmen season at Michigan State — 9.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 35 games while shooting 31.7% from 3-point range — and conclude they aren’t good enough to take the next step. At least not yet.
Another season in college is the right choice, the skeptic would say.
But to Christie, the decision was a simple one that became clearer as he leaned on his family and close circle of advisors as he went through the evaluation process over the past few weeks.
“I think they were just reinforcing what I felt like I already knew — that I was ready for this and that I was ready to take that next step in my career and be a professional basketball player,” Christie said. “They just kept reiterating that to me, just to keep confidence in me and keep going and take that next step, and that’s what I did.”
Christie, the former five-star recruit, decided to head to the NBA after just one season at Michigan State, announcing he was hiring an agent and staying in the draft. However, it’s something he’s been leaning toward ever since the Spartans’ season ended with a second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Duke.
“I think I knew it ever since the season ended,” Christie said. “I was always confident in myself to sort of just take that next jump, to take that next step, and I think it was just a part of me getting my feet wet to see what it was really like that sort of reinforced that decision.
“After I did that and got my feet wet and went through some workouts, it reinforced my decision.”
It all comes after a season that can best be described as underwhelming.
Christie was a blue-chip recruit for coach Tom Izzo, and his freshman season began with plenty of promise. He scored in double figures in two of the first four games before ripping off four straight games with 11 or more points, netting 17 against Oakland, 11 in a win at Northwestern, a career-high 21 against Nebraska and 16 in a win at Minnesota.
But the grind of the college season began to take its toll on Christie, who logged heavy minutes and was often tasked with guarding the opponents’ best player. It wore Christie down, and by late in the season, his offense was essentially a non-factor, including a two-point performance in the first-round NCAA Tournament win over Davidson.
Christie, though, believes he still got plenty out of the season.
“It was a little uneventful on the offensive side, I guess you could say, with the numbers and the percentages,” Christie said, “but there’s a silver lining, for sure. On the defensive end, I grew for sure. And I think my leadership, even though I was a freshman on the team, I think that really grew. So although offensively it may not have been great, I think there was a big silver lining.”
Christie is hoping it’s enough for an NBA team to invest in him. In fact, he’s confident that will happen, saying he’s been told he’ll go somewhere between the 20th and 40th pick. That’s enough for him and part of the reason he’s not scrimmaging at the Combine.
And at a young age, he believes teams will be patient with his progress, as well.
“I’m only 19 years old,” Christie said, “and I think just being in an NBA system for a few years is really going to help me grow and improve over time.”
That improvement could have come at Michigan State. Instead, the Spartans move on with a significant hole in the roster.
Christie said his teammates have been supportive and he talks with many of them on a daily basis. And any rumblings of friction between him and Izzo wasn’t evident.
“Coach Izzo been nothing but supportive for me,” Christie said. “He’s held me to a high standard, which is what I asked for. So he’s done everything I asked him and he’s done a great job just living up to who he is, the legendary coach that he is, the great person that he is. So my relationship with him is great.”
He hopes it is with Michigan State fans, too, even with the early departure.
“I wanted to be as present as I could at Michigan State,” Christie said. “I wasn’t coming in thinking I was going after one year. I wanted to be present and make sure that I was contributing as much as possible to winning games.”
Now, Christie will try and do that in the NBA. He’s already interviewed with plenty of teams, though he hasn’t spoken with the Pistons or his hometown Chicago Bulls.
But that’s not Christie’s focus. Instead, he’s wagering on himself.
“Everybody had their own race,” Christie said. “I decided to run my own.”