College Sports

Luke Maye’s winning shot memorable, but how he moves past it might define UNC’s season

In Chapel Hill, in his hometown of Huntersville, or seemingly anywhere else, Luke Maye can’t get away from “The shot.”

You know the one. NCAA Elite 8. North Carolina and Kentucky. Malik Monk (then a Wildcat, now a Charlotte Hornet) sinks a deep 3-pointer at the top of the arc to tie the basketball game with seconds left. UNC inbounds the ball, runs up court and passes to Maye. He shoots. Scores (with less than a second left). Tar Heels win. Rejoice.

The shot became part of UNC basketball lore, up there with Michael Jordan’s game-winner in 1982 to beat Georgetown for the national title, and Marcus Paige’s double-clutch 3-pointer in the national championship in 2016. Maye was named MVP of the region, and even though he only scored two points in the Final Four, his worth to last year’s national championship team was obvious.

And this summer, his life reflected that change.

“It was a lot different, having a lot of people know who I am walking through town, coming back home,” Maye, a junior forward, said Wednesday at ACC Media Day in Charlotte. “Just more recognition, more pictures. More autographs. But I’ve gotten used to it, and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed making people’s day.”

His teammates also have noticed how Maye has adapted to the limelight.

“He’ll talk to anybody, he’ll talk to a brick wall,” senior Theo Pinson said. “He’s not that type of guy just to be like, ‘No, I can’t sign autographs.’ He tries to sign everyone’s autographs because he understands you don’t get this time back and he’s a celebrity.

“He’s Luke Maye.”

But the important thing for UNC this season, though, is if Maye can move past the biggest moment of his college career.

Maye said his parents and teammates have kept him grounded, reminded him that while his accomplishment that game was significant (he finished with 17 points), it isn’t enough to carry him through this season. Especially not when you consider he’s UNC’s lone experienced frontcourt player – Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley - are all gone from last season’s roster.

That leaves Maye and three freshmen. So, has he moved past it?

“I hope to heck so,” coach Roy Williams said. “I’m not going to put him out there and say go ahead and shoot that shot the first play of every game.”

Maye was asked to recreate the shot recently. At “Late Night with Roy” earlier this month, UNC’s annual introduction to the basketball season, the team ran a mock scenario featuring do-overs of some of the most famous shots in school history. Jordan’s was one of them. So was Maye’s – only, he couldn’t replicate it, even given multiple tries.

Maybe that was the preview UNC fans needed that Maye, for as significant as that shot was, is worth more to this team than one basket. At 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, he’ll not only be asked to carry the bulk of UNC’s rebounding load but to teach three physically-imposing freshmen how to do the same.

At times he’ll be asked to defend the opponent’s biggest players, switching to center and playing in the post, and then to come back on offense and nail 3-pointers. Perhaps that’s why Maye has been so dedicated to his conditioning this offseason.

“Luke is extremely confident right now, and he should be,” Williams said. “I mean, he wins every sprint, wins every 12-minute run, he wins the mile, he prepares himself in the top 5 percent of any player I’ve ever coached.”

For now, all Maye can do is prepare. He can take his teammates out to bond, sharing strategy over sandwiches at the Carolina Brewery on Franklin Street. He can run sprints, and he can shoot, and he can study his game from the past.

But what he can’t do, at least if UNC hopes to replicate even a fraction of its success from last season, is dwell on that shot – and so far, it sounds like he isn’t.

“Coach talked to me a little bit in my end-of-year meeting just about making sure that I continue to work hard,” said Maye, who graduated from Hough High. “I want to be remembered for my junior year, my senior year, being a good teammate, just bigger things that will carry a lot more weight in the long run.

“I want to be remembered for more than just one shot.”

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks