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Luke Maye knows people think he won’t make the NBA, but plans to prove them wrong

Charlotte Hornets work out Luke Maye

North Carolina’s Luke Maye worked out for the Charlotte Hornets Saturday.
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North Carolina’s Luke Maye worked out for the Charlotte Hornets Saturday.

There were some who doubted whether Luke Maye could make the shot – the one from the left elbow before time expired to help North Carolina defeat Kentucky in the Elite Eight in 2017.

There were some who doubted whether he was good enough to even wear a Carolina uniform.

Maye proved them wrong each time. He left UNC as one its most accomplished players in program history, making it to two national championship games and three Sweet 16s in four years.

Some critics think that’s all he’ll be. An accomplished college basketball player. While Maye has overcome many hurdles, he faces perhaps his biggest hurdle after his college career: Making it to the NBA.

The 2019 NBA draft is Thursday and 60 players will hear their name called. Maye, a 6-8, 240-pound forward, is not expected to join three of his teammates -- Cam Johnson, Nassir Little and Coby White -- in hearing his name called, according to most mock drafts.

Some draft experts have said he lacks athleticism and the quickness to guard quicker opponents.

The NBA has changed in recent years with an increased focus on players who can shoot it from deep. Maye struggled with his 3-point shot during the 2018-19 season. He shot 28.8 percent from 3-point range as a senior after shooting 43.1 percent from 3 as a junior.

But Maye thinks he can overcome those struggles and prove people wrong just as he did in college.

When asked was this the story of his life – others doubting him – Maye laughed.

“I just think people always kind of see the game of basketball as a highlight type thing,” Maye, 22, told The News & Observer on Monday. “I’m a little bit more old school, kind of just trying to play the game the right way, making shots, playing hard, getting rebounds and really working at it. I’ve always believed hard work outworks talent when talent doesn’t work hard. ...

“I think I’ve done that well in my four years at Carolina and I’m going to try to continue to prove people wrong who say I can’t play in the NBA.”

Maye has dreamed of playing in the NBA since he was in the eighth grade. In high school, he was recruited by a number of Division I schools, including Davidson, and could have gotten a scholarship there, but his dream was to play at North Carolina and he felt he was good enough to play in the ACC, even if others didn’t think so.

He joined the team as a preferred walk-on and earned his scholarship the hard way. Maye still remembers how after his freshman year some fans said he wasn’t good enough to wear a Carolina uniform. He averaged 1.2 points per game and 1.7 rebounds.

“And for them to doubt me based on one year was really tough for me,” he said. “And I just wanted to continue to play hard and prove them wrong.”

He did.

Since the regional semifinal loss to Auburn that ended his college career, Maye has had a busy offseason.

He graduated from UNC with a degree in business administration, and has continued to prepare for the next level. He spent two weeks at IMG Academy, where he trained with Murray State’s Ja Morant, who is expected to go No. 2 overall in Thursday’s draft. After training at IMG Academy, he participated in the G-League Combine.

Maye has also worked out for 12 NBA teams, including with the Cleveland Cavaliers as recently as Tuesday.

“(Twelve) is good,” UNC coach Roy williams said. “The more people that see Luke and get him in and sit him down and talk to him are going to be impressed. If it doesn’t work out for Kenny (Williams) and Luke to play in the NBA, they’re being seen by more people. More people can testify to them. If you’re on a team in Serbia and call about Luke Maye ,you know more about him and it always helps him.

“You never can tell sometimes, those jobs turn around and can get you back in the NBA too.”

Maye said he’ll watch the draft from his home in Huntersville with his family and girlfriend. Whether he gets drafted, it doesn’t matter. Maye said he plans to continue to work hard until he achieves his dream.

Just like he did at UNC.

“I think some people have kind of tailored me as a college player, and that’s their opinion, and I feel like I’ve gotten better every year in college,” Maye said. “I feel like I’m only going to get better in the NBA and just being able to get with a team that sees my skills and wants to develop me and takes the time to help me grow is big for me.”

Here's where the top 10 picks went in the 2019 NBA Draft.

2019 NBA draft

When: 7 p.m., Thursday

Where: Barclays Center, New York

TV: ESPN

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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