Sacramento Kings

‘Over the edge’: Kings rookie coped with anxiety after historic NCAA Tournament loss

Kings guard Kyle Guy tried to hide his anxiety for years, but he knew he couldn’t cope with it alone in the darkest days after his team suffered a historic loss in the NCAA Tournament.

Instead of keeping his feelings trapped inside, Guy spoke out, sought help and spent the next year scripting a fairy-tale ending to his college career at Virginia before entering the NBA Draft.

“Our team had to go through some things,” Guy said. “But in the end, I felt like it was all worth it.”

Guy has looked comfortable and at ease since arriving in Sacramento last week after the Kings selected him 55th overall pick in the draft. As a second-round pick, Guy knows he is not guaranteed a contract or a roster spot, but the smile on his face suggests he is already living his dream.

“I couldn’t be happier with where I landed,” said Guy, who averaged 12.3 points in three games at the California Classic. “I’m very thankful that the Kings believed in me.”

Guy grew up in Lawrence, Indiana, where he attended Lawrence Central High School. He was named Indiana’s Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American after averaging 23.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists as a senior. He wasn’t always the knockdown shooter he is today, but he perfected his form and wound up setting a career record for 3-point shooting at Virginia.

“I used to shoot with two hands when I was in elementary school probably up until like seventh grade,” Guy said. “I could shoot a little bit, but it definitely didn’t look good. My guidance counselor, who was a close family friend, taught me how to shoot for real and ever since then I worked really hard at it.”

Guy came out of high school as a four-star recruit, the 27th-rated prospect in the country, according to ESPN. He had offers from schools such as Cal, Xavier and Indiana, but he made the fateful decision to attend Virginia.

The 2017-18 season ended with the unthinkable. The Cavaliers suffered a devastating loss to Maryland-Baltimore County in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the men’s bracket. The Cavaliers authored the ultimate redemption story when they defeated Texas Tech to win the NCAA championship in April, one year after losing to UMBC.

“I would say there are three things that are the best things that ever happened to me in basketball,” Guy said. “Getting drafted and winning the national championship are tied for second, but No. 1 was losing to UMBC because it taught me some valuable things that I wouldn’t have learned any other way.”

It wasn’t easy, though. The fallout from the loss to UMBC only heightened Guy’s sense of anxiety.

“I was dealing with it a little bit during the whole season and that just kind of pushed me over the edge, as you can imagine,” Guy said. “Because when everyone asked me what it feels like, well, the crazy thing is when you’re the first to do something on the wrong side of history, at least in men’s basketball, there’s not really a protocol on how to handle that.”

Shock, sadness and regret were just the start.

“There’s humiliation, embarrassment, feeling like you let your family and friends down,” Guy said. “Obviously the media has a field day with that. It’s on SportsCenter every 10 seconds. We’re used to seeing ourselves on ESPN winning because that’s what we do, and then when you lose on that stage it’s the complete opposite.”

Conversations with his fiancée, Alexa Jenkins, helped. They are middle-school sweethearts who plan to get married this summer.

Guy also sought professional help. He met regularly with Dr. Jason Freeman, a sports psychologist at Virginia who prescribed anti-anxiety medication.

“I went to my training staff, went to the doc, and it was like, ‘Look, I think I’m struggling with something,’” Guy said. “The UVA training staff was amazing. I talked to a sports psychologist once or twice a week. I started taking medication. At first I was prideful and I didn’t want to ask for help, but that really helped.”

Jenkins urged Guy to speak out about his experience in order to help others who wrestle with anxiety. Guy moderated a mental health panel for athletes at Virginia at the start of his junior season and participated in a similar panel discussion at the Final Four in Minneapolis.

Guy said he learned to turn the pain into inspiration.

“This whole entire year, this whole process, anytime I wanted to take a rep off or put my hands on my knees or act tired or whatever, it’s just like, ‘Dude, last time your hands were on your knees, you were crying at half court,’ so I don’t allow myself to do that.”

Guy scored 10 points against the Golden State Warriors on Monday, 13 against the Miami Heat on Tuesday and 14 against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. He shot just 37.8 percent from the field but hit 40.9 percent from 3-point range in those three contests for the Kings, who will face China in their first game at the Las Vegas Summer League on Saturday.

Kings summer league coach Jesse Mermuys said Guy made an immediate impression during last week’s minicamp and this week’s California Classic.

“It’s nice to have a guy with his skill set because he’s a threat,” Mermuys said. “Even when he’s missing, he’s a threat because he can shoot the ball so well.

“What my feeling was going through the little minicamp was, as the competition rose, when we were scrimmaging and stuff, when it got higher competition, his presence (increased). He’s got something inside of him and he rises to that level. He really enjoys it. That’s the mark of an NBA guy.”