Mays Hopes for Staying Power

CUTigers.com checks in with former Clemson standout James Mays as he tries to make the Denver Nuggets' regular season roster.

Mays, of course, was a major factor in the Tigers reaching their first NCAA Tournament since 1998, averaging 10.7 points and 6.8 rebounds while also serving as the point-man in Clemson's full-court press.

While disappointed he wasn't drafted this summer, Mays landed with the Charlotte Bobcats' Summer League team.

Once training camp opened, he signed on with the Denver Nuggets, where he is hoping to be on the team's opening night roster next week.

CUTigers.com caught up with him by phone from the Mile High City and here's what he had to say:

How do you look back on your time at Clemson?
Mays: (Those were) probably some of the best four years of my life. I came into a program with a new head coach in his first recruiting class. We tried to change the outlook of the program, which we did. We came in trying to change how we played defense, we pressed a lot and got a lot of big turnovers in the last three years I was there.

What did it mean to be part of Coach Purnell's first recruiting class?
Mays: Being that we were Coach Purnell's first recruiting class, when we got there, basketball really wasn't a big thing for Clemson. It was basically a football-oriented school and nobody really cared too much about basketball, none of the games were sold out or anything like that. So, we just started from the bottom up and over time, our defense started giving people problems and our offense started coming up. Then, we got some good recruits coming in with Terrell Buckner and some of the other guys that came in. We started to change the makeup of Clemson basketball to actually become a powerhouse and be nationally-ranked. My junior year, we were 17-0 at one point and last year, we finished third in the ACC.

How much has fellow ex-Tiger Greg Buckner, now in his 10th NBA season, helped you?
Mays: He came to Greenville a couple of times for a camp that I came and help him with. Just spending time with him and talking with him was great. He showed me and taught me a lot of things about the game of basketball. He was being like the big brother, telling me to help the other guys, the younger guys out anyway I could. He showed me how to do little things here and there to contribute to my game and things like that. He told me to just make sure I was in shape when I got to training camp. He also told me to just do what I do best and to not try to do anything that I don't already know how to do well.

Were you surprised that you didn't get drafted?
Mays: Being that I came out after my junior year and then decided to come back for my senior year, I wasn't too surprised. I was up and down my senior year. I got hurt and that hurt a lot. During the season, I really didn't think about it too much. I was just trying to contribute and help the team get to the tournament, which we did for the first time in a long time at Clemson. When it came draft time, I knew I had to get back healthy. Once I did that, I would be able to showcase my talent. I didn't get drafted but I have a lot of other opportunities to get in. It's good to be here in Denver.

How is your health right now?
Mays: My body feels very good. I can run, jump and do a lot of things that I couldn't do a couple of months ago when I was in college.

Mays averaged 10.7 points and 6.8 rebounds and was a major factor in the Tigers reaching their first NCAA Tournament since 1998.
What was the summer league like with Charlotte?
Mays: I really liked it there, the coaching staff was good and Larry Brown was an awesome coach. I wish I could've been there with them but I'm here in Denver, which is a great program. Everybody here is really nice and helpful. They're all veterans and take you under their wing to show you things.

In your short time in the NBA you've already gotten to learn from two great coaches (Larry Brown in Charlotte and now George Karl in Denver). What has that been like for you?
Mays: It's a little different being coached by two Carolina guys. But when it's all said and done, those are two guys that know a lot about basketball and they're really there to help you learn. They're both kind of hard on rookies but it's for the best. When he had time to stop and explain, Coach Brown would do that because he's a guy who really loves to teach. He loved the way I defended and things like that. Coach Karl is really down to earth and hazes you a little bit because you're a rookie. But when it's all said and done, he explains everything very well and gives me the opportunity to showcase my talent.

What has been the biggest adjustment for you so far at this level?
Mays: The pace of the game and the strength of the players (have been the biggest adjustments). The game is much faster up here. In college, you can get away with not running as hard and things like that but on this level, you've got to go hard on every play.

What will you miss about playing at Littlejohn Coliseum?
Mays: (I will miss) everything-the fans, the crowd, just being in school and in that college atmosphere. Those were some of the best times in my life with the friends, going to class with your peers and things like that. The best part for me was the team, which was pretty much like a family. That's one of the main things that I will miss.

Another NBA player, David West of New Orleans, is from your hometown. How close are you with him?
Mays: I'm not as tight with him. We grew up in the same place and I know his family but I haven't talked to him in a while. When he does come back to Raleigh, I still talk to his family and there is some type of communication there.

How much hazing have you had to endure from the veterans in Denver?
Mays: It really hasn't been that extreme yet. Every time in drills, if one of them gets tired, they'll tell me to go get a ball or they'll tell me to go again or keep going. When it's a break, you have to go get everybody water or things like that. It hasn't been anything major where I have had to go buy a bunch of stuff or anything like that.

How does it feel to be in the NBA?
Mays: I try to keep a positive outlook but know there's a possibility I might end up here. Who knows? It's definitely like a dream come true. Doing what I do best-rebounding and running the floor, is what got me to this point. If I can continue to do that and do it well, then I think there is a very real possibility that I might end up making the team here or maybe somebody else might see me and pick me up.

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