When Luke Maye took a seat behind home plate on Saturday, a familiar sound filled an unusual place. The sudden chant of “Luuuuke,” unrelated to anything happening on the field, had some curious Stetson players turning around to look into the stands, baffled at what the Boshamer Stadium crowd might be booing.
Wherever Maye goes on campus, the serenade follows. It's been that way since his shot against Kentucky. It will be that way for another season. (And probably long after that, given what he has accomplished so far in his North Carolina career.)
“Sometimes it gets to be a lot, with trying to watch the game and also trying to take pictures," Maye said. "I enjoy doing it, but I'm also a spectator and like to follow the game. But that's part of it, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Just being able to go out there and have people recognize me for my hard work and my accomplishments is pretty special.”
His brief fact-finding flirtation with the NBA draft concluded, the hirsute forward from Huntersville is back on campus after working out for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Atlanta Hawks and hometown Charlotte Hornets -- fitting those workouts in around a two-week trip to South Africa with the business school -- and ready to conclude an improbable career arc that already has seen him go from walk-on to role player to unlikely NCAA tournament hero to first-team all-ACC in the space of three unlikely years.
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At 6-foot-8, Maye probably isn't big or quick enough for the NBA at this point, even though his shooting ability will get him a look as a so-called “stretch four” eventually. That's good news for North Carolina, where his combination of size and shot made him an offensive juggernaut as a junior and his experience will put him in a leadership role as a senior.
“It was a great opportunity to see how the game was different and how I would fit into an NBA system,” Maye said. “The biggest thing I learned is just how I can develop and get better, mainly on the defensive end, and also try to continue to become more of a playmaker offensively.”
Where Maye goes from here is anyone's guess. Certainly there's room for marginal improvement on the 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds he averaged last season, especially given the scoring void to be filled with the departure of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, but there were also times where it seemed like Maye was asked to do too much last season, especially on defense where the Tar Heels have traditionally had taller rim defenders at that position under Roy Williams.
Maye has a long list of areas where he wants to improve – finishing at the rim, consistency, free throws, drawing fouls, explosiveness – and Williams, at this point, isn't in a position to doubt him. Watching Maye play in Chapel Hill this week against NBA forwards John Henson, Brice Johnson and Tyler Zeller, Williams found himself silently encouraging Maye to rush the ball up the court instead of whispering the warning he would issue from the bench last year: “Easy, easy.”
“I'm not going to limit what I think Luke can do,” Williams said. “I didn't do that last year, and so I'm hoping we can still see some improvement. Because he's going to put in the time, and if you put in the time and sweat, you get better. I think he's also really intelligent and knows where he can improve himself. We've had some talks about what he can do. So I'm not going to limit him.”
This much is certain: Maye will continue to be the Tar Heels' primary frontcourt scoring option, and North Carolina fans will continue to love him for it – and serenade him wherever he goes.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock