Maye provides priceless contribution for UNC

Even with a $25,000 scholarship in hand, its impossible to place a value on the contribution sophomore Luke Maye has made off the bench this season -- including a career-best effort that helped lift the Tar Heels into Sundays region championship game ag

Justin Ford—USA Today Sports
Mar 24

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Luke Maye began taking one for the team before he ever slipped on a jersey as a North Carolina basketball player. It happened when he agreed to join the Tar Heels basketball team as a walkon so that coach Roy Williams could hold a couple of scholarships open for other players he was pursuing. When those players decided to go elsewhere, he made “one of the neatest phone calls ever” to the son of former UNC quarterback Mark Maye. “I said, ‘you want to go in and ask your mom and dad if you can have a thousand dollars to go to the beach and blow it this weekend?’ Williams recalled Friday after the Tar Heels’ 92-80 win against Butler in the NCAA South Region semifinals. “He said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if I can do that. And I said well, tell them that I just called you and gave you a $25,000 scholarship for next year, so the least they can do is give you a thousand to blow.” Maye pleaded the Fifth when asked his side of the story. But even with that $25,000 scholarship in hand, it’s impossible to place a value on the contribution he’s made off the bench this season — including a career-best effort that helped lift UNC into Sunday’s region championship game against Kentucky at FedExForum, Maye was pressed into extended service against Butler because of early foul trouble to both Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley. He rose to the occasion by posting his first career double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes. Fourteen of those points — one more than his previous career high — came during an eight-minute, 14-second stretch in which the Tar Heels (30-7) broke the game open. It was a performance that took many in attendance by surprise, particularly those who assumed that the scholarship with which Williams rewarded Maye was little more than a gesture of goodwill to the son of a former UNC great. The coach and his teammates knew better. “He’s been like this since high school,” said senior center and fellow Charlotte native Kennedy Meeks. “I’ve seen him have a lot of 20-point games in high school. That’s just the type of player he is.” Maye has made an exponential improvement over his freshman season, in which he looked out of place on the court at times while averaging only 5.4 minutes per game. But he’s much stronger and more confident these days and secure enough in his role to understand that sometimes his biggest contributions to the team won’t come on game days. Meeks knows how tough Maye can be because he has to bump heads — and elbows — with the 6-foot-8, 235-pound sophomore in practice every day. “Last year he sat in my office and told me he was going to work harder than anybody on the team in the offseason,” Williams said. “That’s the way it is with Luke. He works exceptionally hard, he’s a good shooter, he has good savvy. He really does provide a lot of headaches for the starting five during practice.” He’s also had his moments in games. And not just those games against overmatched competition in November and December. Important games. Tough games. His career high of 15 rebounds came in a 96-83 win against Florida State, probably the longest and most athletic team in the ACC. He also scored 11 points in the regular season game against Kentucky in Las Vegas while hitting for 13 points and seven rebounds in a rout of rival NC State. “I just want to go out there and play the best I can and try to limit the mistakes I make to do what I can to help my team win,” Maye said. “(Friday) I got a couple of shots to fall in and I felt pretty confident. They kept going in and it gave us the win. That’s the biggest thing we wanted and we’re moving on to Sunday.” Besides his grit and court awareness, Maye’s biggest value to the Tar Heels is his ability to bt both a solid inside presence and a dangerous 3-point threat — as he was Friday by going 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. “Luke has the ability to shoot the ball. He has the ability to rebound the ball, but the reason Luke to be successful is what he’s got in his brain and his heart,” Williams said. “He’s got a big role with our team and I think it will just get bigger and bigger over his career.”