Jalen Suggs looked every bit like a five-star, top-10 prospect at the Under Armour Association Session II in Kansas City. The Des Moines Register
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It takes about a minute of watching Max Christie to realize he's a special basketball talent.
And it takes about a minute of talking to Christie to realize he's a special kid.
"Not a lot of kids get to travel out here in Kansas City and play in this beautiful arena," he told the Register, smiling and gesturing to the Under Armour Association courts spread before him last weekend. "Count your blessings. Be grateful for everything."
The Rolling Meadows, Illinois, native lives with humility rare for a 16-year-old — let alone a 16-year-old who already holds 11 Division I offers and is considered one of the country's 10 best prospects in the Class of 2021.
On the court, he looks every bit like a five-star phenom. He's a slashing 6-foot-6 guard with a lights-out shot, and he's eager to make plays for his teammates.
Off the court — and online — he acts very little like a five-star talent. He's quiet. He doesn't publicize offers. He has tweeted four times in 2019, and one of those was to congratulate a former teammate.
This isn't to say there's anything wrong with being more loud and proud.
But there is something refreshing about the quiet and calm Christie in today's hyper-active, year-round, social-media-crazed recruiting world.
"He’s very poised and mature beyond his years, which is unusual in any teenager. It’s a great benefit to him on the basketball court," said Mike Mullins, Christie's Illinois Wolves coach. "It’s really fun for us to have that in our program. We’ve had a few kids like that who have played for a long time and are still playing professionally now.
"And Max is just the latest like that."
Where does Christie's poise come from? That's an easy answer, he and Mullins say ...
Christie's mother, Katrina, was a hard-nosed worker during her 1,000-point career at Northwestern. His father, Max Sr., played at Parkland College and NAIA Wisconsin Superior, and is now a pilot.
Priorities are set in the Christie household. Family, faith and schoolwork come first. Basketball is important, too, but only after Max finishes his chores.
"My parents always tell me, 'Don’t do anything stupid,'" Christie laughed.
Added Mullins: "They treat him like a normal teenager at home — him and his brother. The world isn’t revolving around one or the other."
That type of grounded attitude will help Christie over the next couple years, Mullins said, as his recruitment gets busier and more packed with pressure.
Christie entered last week's live recruiting period with offers from Iowa, Illinois, Purdue, Florida, Baylor, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Stanford, Loyola and DePaul. And that list could double in size by next spring. Many other schools, such as Iowa State, have him on their radar, too.
The unassuming star said he's taking time with his recruitment. He's just enjoying his visits right now, learning everything he can about the schools that like him.
And, yeah, he mostly stays off Twitter.
"I’m not really reading any mentions or anything or people throwing hate at me," Christie said. "I still have a lot to learn, especially with recruitment, and outside basketball, as well. So I’m just going to stick to what I’m doing because it’s working so far."
It makes sense why so many schools are already actively recruiting Christie.
He started on varsity as a freshman and he's playing up with the Illinois Wolves 17U squad as a sophomore. He checked in at about 6-4 last year, and he's 6-6 — pushing 6-7 — right now. Doctors say he could get up to 6-8.
All the while, Christie is maintaining his guard skills.
"That’s the goal," he said. "You don’t really see 6-8 point guards around."
The Illinois Wolves program doesn't practice by position, Mullins said. All their players work on every facet of the game. Posting up, long-range shooting, ball-handling, etc. He said that training will come in handy as Christie grows, as long as he's able to maintain his skill level in a bigger body — and he has no doubt Christie will.
Iowa assistant coach Kirk Speraw, Christie's main recruiter, had a consistent presence at the five-star sophomore's games in Kansas City. The Hawkeyes offered Christie last July, and he visited campus for the home finale versus Rutgers on March 2.
"Iowa’s nice," he said. "Their arena that I saw was really unique; that was the first time I’d ever seen something like that. It was pretty cool. Coach (Fran) McCaffery is a great guy, and Coach Speraw was my guy that took me around, so I liked him a lot too. And just watching the game, it felt great to be there."
Again, though, don't expect anything to come soon from Christie's recruitment.
This humble kid is quietly going his own pace.
"Just be slow with everything," he said. "Pressure is a privilege — with everybody coming at you, everybody expecting things from you. So just take your time. Enjoy it."
Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.