Photo: Luke Maye
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Luke Maye grew up a North Carolina fan. Both his parents are UNC graduates, including his father Mark having played quarterback for the Tar Heels’ football team from 1984 to 1987.
But once he grew into a 6-foot-8, 225-pound power forward at Cornelius Hough High near Charlotte and had developed into an ACC-caliber basketball talent, committing to the Tar Heels wasn’t that simple.
First, North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t have a scholarship available to offer him. All he could give him was a preferred walk-on slot.
Second, even if UNC had an available scholarship, Williams' assistant coaches weren’t convinced Maye could develop into an impact player for the Tar Heels.
Third, Maye had scholarship offers from 12 schools, among them ACC teams Notre Dame and Clemson and another from nearby Davidison and legendary coach Bob McKillop.
Why pay your way to school and have to work your way up from the bottom to earn a chance over scholarship players that will by human nature get the benefit of the doubt over a walk-on when you can instead be one of those privileged recruits at another school?
Well, because he’d have to wear a uniform other than Carolina Blue. So maybe it was simple, after all. Four years later, the North Carolina senior with All-American and All-ACC honors and a national championship ring has more than lived out his dream.
“Obviously, I made the right decision,” Maye said before the latest edition of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. “I had confidence in myself and trust in coach. My parents wanted me to go where I felt most comfortable. Davidison is nearby and Coach (Bob) McKillop is an unbelievable coach, but when I took everything into account I did what I felt was best for me.”
He’ll play one last time in a home game along with seniors Kenny Williams and Cam Johnson when No. 3-ranked North Carolina (25-5, 15-2 ACC) plays host to No. 4 Duke (26-4, 14-3 ACC) in the regular-season finale at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Smith Center.
“I wanted to play in the ACC, and I felt I was good enough to play at this university,” Maye said. “Coach offered me preferred walk-on, but knowing I had other offers I felt I could play at the next level past college. If I came here I’d be practice against Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Joel Berry every day and be getting better.”
Maye's development isn't a surprise to Williams. He just didn't have a scholarship for him.
"Let’s not call him a walk-on," Williams said. "He could have gone to Davidison, Clemson, Notre Dame. That makes him look like he came from nowhere. He had some good offers, but he was a North Carolina guy."
Maye only averaged 5.4 points a game his freshman year in 2015-16 when the Tar Heels finished as the national runner-up to Villanova, but he played in 33 games. He had enough moments such as grading out the best on the team on defense in 11 minutes against Kansas State, five rebounds and two assists against Tulane and a season-high seven points with five rebounds against Appalachian State.
That was enough for Williams to call him into his office in the spring and grant him the coveted scholarship.
“That was cool for me,” Maye said. “But whether I got a scholarship or not, I wanted to get better every day.”
As a sophomore, Maye did more than earn more playing time, averaging 14 minutes off the bench with 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds a game. He wrote himself into North Carolina lore when he hit his 19-foot game-winning shot with 0.3 seconds remaining to beat Kentucky and send the Tar Heels to the Final Four.
A week later North Carolina completed its redemption march to a national title with wins over Oregon in the semifinals and Gonzaga in the championship game.
“I’ll remember how far he came and how hard he worked,” Williams said of Maye on Senior Night. “That desire and how he believed in himself. I take pride in knowing he knew I would give him a chance. There is admiration and pride for what he has accomplished. When you talk coaching basketball players, you ask, 'Did they reach their potential?' ”
As a junior, Maye started all 37 games, averaging a double-double with 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds. He earned first-team All-ACC honors and was a third-team All-American selection by Associated Press, The Sporting News, USA Today and NBC Sports.
Now he’s down to his final games wearing Carolina Blue, depending on how long of an NCAA Tournament run the Tar Heels make, averaging another double-double of 14.9 points and 10.3 rebounds. In North Carolina’s first Duke game, he finished with 30 points and 15 rebounds at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Maye said of his time in Chapel Hill. “I have a sense of gratitude for all the players I’ve played with and the coaches I’ve played under and all the fans and students I’ve been in contact with. It’s been special for me.”
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
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