CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After a freshman year of spot duty, North Carolina forward Luke Maye understands the available playing time within his reach this season and continued to make his case in Friday’s 124-63 exhibition win over UNC Pembroke.
The Huntersville, N.C. native turned in the best performance by a Tar Heel big against the Braves, scoring 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out five assists.
“I just wanted to go out there and play my game, play to my strengths and help my teammates,” Maye told reporters after the game. “I wanted to come out at the end of the day and say that we got better as a team.”
The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder acknowledges he lacks the athleticism of Isaiah Hicks or the size of Kennedy Meeks or Tony Bradley. Instead of lamenting not having those traits, Maye has worked to perfect the areas where he can best contribute, whether it be on the glass or as a potential of stretch four type of player on the perimeter.
Having a year under his belt has also helped to slow the game, mitigating the speed and size dilemma to a manageable level.
“He’s been playing with confidence,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “He played pretty doggone well at the scrimmage against Memphis. All of the guys as a staff, we voted on who we thought were the most impressive people and he was one of the top four at the Memphis scrimmage.”
Despite seeing his playing time dwindle as the ACC regular season gave way to the postseason last year, Maye stayed engaged in practice, focusing less on the present and more on his long-term potential.
“Coach told me all last year I just needed to keep playing hard in practice and my time would come,” he said. “I just continued to work and continued to play hard against guys like Brice [Johnson] and Joel [James], who left last year. Hopefully I continue to get better as the year goes on.”
That growth was evident against the undermanned Braves. His knack for rebounding has always been a strength, and his footwork on the defensive end appeared improved in a limited sample size. His scoring skillset, however, was the most noticeable difference in his game.
“Luke has developed his offensive game a lot since we first got here,” classmate Kenny Williams said. “When we first got here, I would say he was more of a hustle guy. He’d go get an offensive rebound and get the putback. Now, in practice he’ll get the ball on the outside and pump-fake and do a couple of dribble moves and get into his shot, so I think that’s where he’s improved a lot.”
Maye’s inexperience led many observers to expect an abundance of small ball from the Tar Heels this season. With junior wing Theo Pinson likely sidelined through the end of the calendar year, Maye will have plenty of opportunities to change that perspective. More games like Friday will allow him to demand more playing time.