The thing about younger brothers is that they’re always having to follow in the footsteps of their older siblings.That’s not the reason Cole Maye decided to concentrate on baseball instead of playing college basketball like his family’s firstborn son.
It just happened that way.
And yet, even as Cole began forging his own athletic identity as a hard-throwing freshman left-handed pitcher at Florida, the kid brother still ended up following in big brother Luke’s footsteps.
As a national champion.
Three months after Luke won his title in Phoenix as a member of the North Carolina basketball team, Cole earned a ring of his own when his Gators swept LSU in the College World Series championship series in Omaha on June 27.
It’s a run of family success so improbable even those living through it are having a hard time comprehending it all.
“What are the chances of that happening to the same family in the same year?” said the Mayes’ father Mark, himself a top-flight athlete who played quarterback for UNC in the mid-1980s. “We’re just so happy and blessed. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The excitement began in late March when Luke burst into the national spotlight by hitting what will likely go down as one of the most famous shots in UNC basketball history.
With the score tied and time running out in the NCAA South Region final against Kentucky, the sophomore forward took a pass from teammate Theo Pinson and calmly sank an open jumper from just inside the 3-point line to give the Tar Heels a 75-73 victory.
The winning basket capped an unexpected performance in which Maye, who averaged only 5.5 points per game in a reserve role, scored a career-high 17 points to help send his team to the Final Four.
A week later, he and his teammates cut down the nets after beating Gonzaga for the national title. As he did, his brother Cole watched from the stands at University of Phoenix with the rest of his family and began dreaming a championship dream of his own.
“The stage Luke was playing on was amazing and I started thinking that Omaha is going to be about the same thing in terms of the hype and how exciting it would be to be in the finals,” Cole said. “It just got me amped up to try to make it to the finals in baseball.
“As a freshman who graduated a semester early from Hough High School in Charlotte to begin his college career this spring, Cole’s contribution to Florida’s championship season wasn’t nearly as prominent as Luke’s with UNC.He worked only 3 1/3 innings over five relief appearances, striking out four while allowing five runs.
Although he didn’t pitch in a game after a May 27 loss to Arkansas, Maye remained a vocal supporter of his teammates throughout Florida’s run to the first baseball title in school history.
He also had a loyal supporter of his own, at least until Luke had to return to Chapel Hill for the start of summer school.
“I went out there Monday night and got to eat with some of the guys and then Thursday we just kind of hung out during the day,” Luke said. “I had to come back to school on Sunday so I did not get a chance to be there for the championship series, but I was watching both Monday and Tuesday night.
“When they won it I called Cole. It was definitely a great feeling to talk to him and say we’re both national champions in the same year.”
That success has brought about an unexpected celebrity to the brothers, especially Luke, who became an overnight social media sensation after video of him attending an early morning class just 12 hours after his game-winner beat Kentucky went viral.But other than the added attention, including headlines when Luke was involved in a car accident last month, life hasn’t changed much for the down-to-earth family from suburban Charlotte.
“I take a lot more pictures, a lot more autographs, but I still go to class, workout and just look forward to this coming year,” Luke said. “I definitely look back some days and feel the joy that we felt on that last Monday night and after I hit the shot against Kentucky. “It’s something you dream about.”
Truth be told, it’s more than family patriarch Mark Maye could ever have imagined.A former star in his own right who once held the UNC single game record by throwing for 406 yards against Georgia Tech in 1987, Mark can hardly contain his pride when it comes to the accomplishments of his sons.
Not matter how much more difficult their rapid fire national championships have made it for his two youngest boys — high school sophomore Beau and rising ninth grader Drake — to follow in the footsteps of their older brothers.
“We just want them to keep working hard and we’ll see what happens,” Mark said. “We’ve been fortunate in that both Luke and Cole had the opportunity to play for great programs, North Carolina in basketball and Florida in baseball,” he said. “They’re in the top five programs almost every year. That kind of increases your chances, I guess.”