They call themselves “the boys from 704,” a nod to the area code for both Kennedy Meeks of Charlotte and Luke Maye of Huntersville.
And they have this little routine before each game – one they plan to use just before North Carolina tips off in the Final Four against Oregon at 8:49 p.m. Saturday.
Said Maye: “Every time, just before the game, Kennedy comes up to me and just says ‘Show out for the city!’ He reminds me of why we’re playing – and who we’re playing for. You play for where you’ve come from. You play for your hometown.”
“Yeah,” Meeks said, “the boys from 704. We say that all the time to each other. It’s nice to have two of us from the same place.”
It happened, at least in part, because Meeks offered an endorsement of Maye to North Carolina coach Roy Williams in 2013. Williams was already well aware of Maye and recruiting him to an extent. But Meeks’ advocacy of his friend and high school rival was an important step in the development of the player who won a place in Tar Heel basketball lore when he hit the game-winning shot against Kentucky a week ago.
“Coach asked me about Luke, and it was an automatic ‘Yes!’” Meeks said. “You know a good player when you see one.”
“That shows what kind of guy Kennedy is,” Maye said of the endorsement. “It meant everything.”
The travel-team connection
In 2013, Meeks was the best high school basketball player in Charlotte. He and Maye knew each other, in part because they played under the umbrella of the same travel squad, Team United Hoops.
But Meeks was two years older than Maye, so he played for a slightly more advanced Team United squad than Maye did. Meeks and Maye would always speak to each other, and Meeks was well aware that Maye’s mother, the former Aimee Sockwell, had once been a star basketball player for West Charlotte.
But Meeks was actually friendlier with future South Carolina star Sindarius Thornwell, who plays in the first Final Four game Saturday for the Gamecocks against Gonzaga. They were the two best players on the top Team United squad and occasionally spent time together both at Meeks’ home in Charlotte and Thornwell’s 40 miles away in Lancaster, S.C. (Those two remain so close that they plan to get joint tattoos after this Final Four that say BFL – Brothers for Life.)
Maye was the younger player with promise, but not someone that Meeks hung out with regularly. Their high school teams – West Charlotte for Meeks, Hough High in Cornelius for Maye – were conference rivals.
It was a one-sided rivalry, though.
“My freshman year in high school,” Maye said, “we played them three times and each time they beat us by something like 30 points.”
By Maye’s sophomore season, though, Hough was a lot better and had gotten within striking distance of West Charlotte. The two had split their season series – each winning at home – when they met again in the high school playoffs in 2013.
Much like this Final Four weekend, Meeks knew then that a part of his career was coming to an end. It was just a matter of stretching it out for as long as he could.
“And then Luke beat me,” Meeks said.
“We were rolling pretty good, and we caught them on a good night for us,” Maye said.
In a game at West Charlotte, Maye outplayed Meeks and Hough won 61-52. Maye finished with 19 points and 14 rebounds, while Meeks had 12 points and five rebounds.
Williams wasn’t at that playoff game. By that time, he had already signed Meeks to a scholarship and was involved in coaching the final weeks of the Tar Heels’ 2013 season.
But Williams knew the game was happening. The coach called Meeks soon after it was over to say he was sorry Meeks wouldn’t be able to win another prep state championship to go with the one he earned in 2011.
Then he asked about whether Meeks thought Luke Maye was the real deal.
Mark Maye, Luke’s father and a former Tar Heels quarterback, has had conversations with Williams about what happened next.
“Now Luke really loves Kennedy,” Mark Maye said. “Really looks up to him. But Kennedy was an All-American, the best player in the area, and he could have said anything.”
Meeks offered an unqualified endorsement. You need to take a hard look at Luke, Meeks remembers saying. He can play.
Davidson’s close miss
The endorsement helped, Williams has said, although he was already looking relatively hard at Maye. But he wasn’t looking as hard as some schools. Maye’s finalists would eventually include Virginia, Notre Dame, Clemson and Charlotte. But the school that spent more time recruiting him than anyone else was Davidson, less than 10 miles away from the Maye family home on I-77.
“Coach (Bob) McKillop was amazing,” Aimee Maye said, “and the way he recruited Luke made Luke a better man. I remember Coach McKillop coming to our youngest son Drake’s football games. He would sometimes bring his entire staff. They couldn’t talk to us except to say hello because of the recruiting rules, so they would be sitting in the stands, Jersey Mike’s subs in their lap, eating on the go and watching Luke’s youngest brother play football. They left no stone unturned.”
And yet North Carolina was Maye’s dream school. Both his parents had graduated from there. All the boys had Tar Heel-themed clothing. The family had all sorts of UNC traditions.
For instance, the Maye family owned a Christmas pillow with the word “Noel” on it. When UNC player David Noel did something good during his career in the mid-2000s, somebody in the family would hold up the pillow and shake it. They would tease each other that Sean May, a star on the 2005 national championship team, was a long-lost cousin because of his surname.
So while Davidson finished a strong second to North Carolina in the recruiting chase for Maye, the Wildcats were always at a disadvantage because of family history. Maye had been raised in a family that loved the Tar Heels. When Williams told Maye he would at least have a scholarship for three seasons – he would eventually add the fourth year before Maye ever got to campus, so the story about him being a walk-on is apocryphal – he was sold.
Meeks and Maye like to tease each other now. Meeks knows how naturally humble Maye is, so he takes some delight in claiming that “Luke trash-talked the entire time” in that 2013 playoff game.
But seriously, Meeks said, he’s glad that Maye came and that he could play at least some role in the process.
“Luke coming to Chapel Hill gave us two boys from 704,” Meeks said. “And now it’s time to show out for the city.”