College is meant to expose kids to experiences that help them grow — in their lives, in their passions and in the fields that might lead to future professions.
When the NCAA adjusted the time window in 2016 for underclassmen basketball players to explore the NBA without sacrificing their remaining college eligibility, that fit the college mission. Now, Luke Maye will benefit.
Maye, who went to Hough High in Cornelius, has been a star at North Carolina. Whether that will translate into an NBA career is still a question. By turning pro this spring without signing with an agent, Maye can explore what the NBA thinks of him without risking his remaining season of college eligibility.
A player could do that before 2016, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as useful, because he would have had just a handful of days to interact with NBA teams. Under the current rule, Maye wouldn’t have to pull his name out of the draft before late May, after the NBA’s combine in Chicago and for another week or so if Maye is invited by individual teams for workouts.
A 6-8 forward, Maye had a very productive junior season after helping the Tar Heels to the NCAA championship in 2017. He averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds and shot 43 percent from 3-point range.
But that doesn’t necessarily translate into Maye being drafted in the first round, which automatically guarantees two seasons' salary — or drafted at all among the 60 picks.
“There are always questions about his size,” said Maye’s father, Mark, a former North Carolina quarterback.
That question? Whether Luke Maye’s skill set matches his size, as far as fitting what the NBA wants. But that’s what this option to explore is about. Even if it’s likely Maye doesn’t stay in this draft, there is a benefit in making himself available; at worst, it’s a rehearsal for the spring of 2019.
With that in mind, North Carolina coach Roy Williams wasn’t just OK with Maye exploring this option, he enthusiastically encouraged it.
“It’s a great idea. I know Coach Williams talked about what position he’s in now,” thanks to the current rule, Mark Maye said.
“At minimum, these guys get some feedback on how they can improve and where they stand. And the NBA gets to know these guys a little better.”
Dozens of underclassmen made that choice this spring, submitting paperwork to be draft-eligible, and in most cases, there is no downside. Underclassmen can declare up to two times, and pull their names, without consequences so long as they don’t sign with an agent.
The key in optimizing this is drawing an invitation to the NBA draft combine in Chicago on May 16-20. That experience puts you through the drills, physicals and measures typical of the draft and puts you on display for every basketball executive in the NBA and plenty of international scouts, too. ESPN’s family of networks televises much of the combine.
Make an impression in Chicago, and maybe you get invitations to workouts for individual teams.
“I played football, and I wish there would be something (comparable for underclassmen) to get help like that,” Mark Maye said.
Test against the best
Luke Maye is an interesting case in this process because he has a track record of overcoming low perceptions. He initially committed to North Carolina without knowing whether he’d have an athletic scholarship as a freshman, then rose over time to college star.
Getting into the scouting combine, to compete with players of higher draft status, would be a similar experience and something he’d relish regardless of whether that puts him in the 2018 draft or points him back to Chapel Hill.
“That’s what Luke is looking forward to: that opportunity to play against some of the best players out there,” Mark Maye said. “Whether it’s workouts or interviews or whatever, the only way to get better is through practice. To be involved with this is only a plus.”