CHAPEL HILL — Luke Maye’s testing of the NBA waters was more like an ankle-deep wade than a head-first dive into the deep end.
But that was all it took for him to get what he wanted out of the pre-draft process.
“It was a good opportunity to kind of see how the game is different, see how I fit into an NBA system,” the North Carolina star said Tuesday at summer media availability. “It was a great opportunity to play against some great players and have the people you want to play for someday watch you play the game you love.”
Maye, who announced his decision to return to school before last week’s deadline, never intended to stay in the draft.
His participation was basically a fact-finding mission designed to identify areas of improvement that will help make him an even better, more well-rounded player than he was for the Tar Heels last season.
Although Maye was not invited to the NBA’s pre-draft Scouting Combine, he did work out individually for three teams. He said the feedback he got from the Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets has given him plenty to work on as he begins preparations for his senior year at UNC.
“I think the biggest thing I took away is the mindset I have coming back to school,” he said. “Things that I can work on, things they’re looking for … like making sure every play matters, making sure defensively you’re in the right spot at the right time, really trying offensively to create your own shot and make plays.
“The NBA game is a lot of screen and roll, screen and pop. So I can work defensively on guarding that better and then also being more of a threat offensively in doing that.”
As confident as UNC coach Roy Williams was that he’d have his All-ACC forward back for the 2018-19 season, he didn’t take Maye’s return for granted until he formally withdrew his name from the draft.
“He wanted to see where he stood. He wanted to get some workouts,” Williams said. “If he had gone to the workouts, blown people away and they’d said, ‘We’re going to take you with the 10th pick,’ the plan would have changed.
“We talked originally about what we hoped would happen, and that’s exactly what happened. He was able to go to three workouts, get some experience, get three teams to tell him some things they thought about his game. That was the whole purpose of it, and it was accomplished.”
Now that he’s been through the process — and taken and taken a trip to South Africa representing UNC’s business school — Maye’s focus is set squarely on helping his team advance deeper into the NCAA Tournament than it did this spring.
The Tar Heels were upset by Texas A&M in the second round, ending a run of two straight Final Four appearances and a national championship in 2017.
Maye said he’s set the bar high for himself in an effort to prevent another early exit. His goals are improving his consistency, physical stamina and free-throw shooting while working to become a more vocal leader on the court in the absence of graduated seniors Joel Berry and Theo Pinson.
It’s hard to imagine the 6-foot-8 Huntersville native being much better than he was in averaging 16.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per game as a junior while earning the ACC’s Most Improved Player award. But Williams said he has learned not to underestimate what his hard-working star is capable of accomplishing.
“I’m not going to limit what I think Luke can do,” Williams said. “I didn’t do that last year, so I’m hoping we can still see some improvement, and I think we will because Luke is going to put in the time. If you put in the time and sweat, you’re going to get better.”
Maye said that his brief experience with the professional game this spring has only added to his motivation.
“I want to play in the NBA,” he said. “That’s my dream. That’s my goal.”