As you “Maye” have heard a certain UNC power forward from Cary has made quite the leap between his sophomore and junior seasons. Luke Maye, the First of His Name, Corraller of Boards, Getter of Buckets, and Slayer of Wildcats, has bumped up his 2017 averages of 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds to 19.9 points and 10.5 rebounds through the first ten games of the season. This is right and excellent. And if it is sustained throughout the season, it will represent the biggest single-season "leap" made by a Tar Heel basketball player in at least 25 years.
But Luke is not the first to make a drastic improvement in such a short time. Here are the top 5 Tar Heels to make "The Leap."
The Rules of The Leap: The Leap must have been made in the course of a single season, not several, since that is a Journey and not a Leap. The Leap must have lasted an entire season (so no Luke yet). The Leap must have been made by a player who was on the Carolina roster the season before (no freshmen or transfers). The Leap cannot take place following an injury, since that is a Recovery and not a Leap.
#5 - Jeff McInnis (1993-94 to 1994-95)
McInnis arrived at UNC in 1993 as a highly touted PG out of Oak Hill Academy. He, along with Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace, made up one of the best recruiting trios Carolina, or anyone else, has ever had. But McInnis was not able to flourish in his freshman campaign for the simple reason that UNC already had a point guard, Derrick Phelps, who had just won a National Championship. McInnis, like his fellow frosh, had to fight for minutes against the established upperclassmen (a theme of the entire 1994 season). In 14.6 minutes per game, McInnis averaged 5.6 points and 2.4 assists.
When Phelps graduated, McInnis was given the reins. Where his predecessor had been a more deliberate, defensive-minded floor general, McInnis brought speed to the UNC attack and was the primary ball handler on what would become the best starting five in the country that year. With his minutes doubled (28.9 mpg), McInnis boosted his averages to 12.4 points and 5.3 assists, shooting 49% from the field and 40% from three, and the Tar Heels made the Final Four.
One could argue that McInnis' Leap was not a surprise and was more the result of opportunity than rapid improvement, but the bottom line is that he went from backup to starter on a very starter-dependent team and helped his team deep into the tournament.
#4 John Henson (2009-10 to 2010-11)
Henson's freshman year, as was the case for everyone involved with the 2010 season, was a real bummer. The 6'11 power forward was initially placed in the unenviable position of trying to carve out minutes in a crowded frontline. Ahead of Henson were Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, and Tyler Zeller. Even the treasonous Wear Twins cut into his minutes. Then, as the season wore on, the injury bug bit Davis and Zeller and Henson was thrust into the starting lineup, a role that the skinny freshman just wasn;t ready for. Henson finished the year averaging 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds. He did however average 1.6 blocks in just 15.6 minutes.
The following year brought a change of fortune: He was given a starting role at the beginning of the season and a point guard who didn't stink in the middle of the season. Henson's averages went up to 11.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game. He was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and formed the best front court duo in the country with Zeller.
#3 - Reyshawn Terry (2004-05 to 2005-06)
This year had a lot of Leaps. There's a case to be made for David Noel, who was the leader of the 2006 team, and for Wes Miller, who went from warming the bench to starting half the season. But my pick is Terry, who went from just 4.6 minutes a game in 2005 to 24.2 in 2006.
Terry had been the ninth man in an eight-man rotation for the 2005 National Champions. Noel, the eighth, had averaged 17 minutes a game. When the top seven scorers from the title-winning team departed, Terry was called upon to step up in a hurry. He did just that, averaging 14.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, providing a strong threat from beyond the 3-pt line at 38%. Not bad for a guy who didn't play at all in five games the season before.
The 2006 team is mainly remembered for Tyler Hansbrough's incredible freshman campaign and David Noel's emotional leadership. But without Terry's huge strides in scoring and rebounding, Redick's Senior Night and that whole finding-money-in-the-wash feeling about that year never happens.
#2 - Donald Williams (1991-92 to 1992-93)
The MVP of the 1993 Final Four didn't get much shine his freshman year at Chapel Hill. And when I say "much" I mean "any." Williams averaged just 2 points in 4 minutes a game and was a healthy scratch for for four Carolina games that year. That was because he was playing behind Hubert Davis who had, with all due respect to Justin Jackson, the best shooting season in Carolina history. Once Davis graduated, the Donald got his turn.
The 1993 Tar Heels were a defensive-minded, grind house squad that won by overpowering their opponents in the paint. Bruisers like Lynch and Montross set the tone. There was only one true shooter on the team, and that was Donald. And, as every Tar Heel knows, he got hot right on time.
For the season he averaged 14.3 points on 42% from beyond the arc. But his scintillating form over the last month of the season carried the Tar Heels to a National Championship. His 10-14 3-pt shooting in the Final Four made the difference against Kansas and Michigan and his four free throws salted the title game away. When he was done, he had taken his place as one of Carolina's greatest postseason heroes.
#1 - Marcus Paige (2012-13 to 2013-14)
Marcus Paige expected to be handed the keys to the Carolina program one day. He just didn't expect that day to come so soon. When Kendall Marshall unexpectedly departed for the NBA after the 2012 season, the freshman from Marion, Iowa was called upon to start at point guard.
It didn't go well. Paige's shooting woes lasted all season and he finished the year averaging 36% from the field and 34% from three, scoring 8.2 points and 4.6 assists. On top of that, his slender frame allowed opposing guards to bully him all season long. At times, he flashed some signs of confidence, particularly late in games, but on the whole the 2013 season was one to forget for Marcus.
2014, however, will not be soon forgotten. Paige's freshman shooting woes vanished in a hurry and he developed into a big game player. His second-half heroics are now the stuff of legend and at times he seemed to be single-handedly dragging the Tar Heels through the season. Wanna make a UNC fan smile? Just say the words "Marcus Paige against NC State." Works every time.
Paige ended the season averaging 17.5 points on 44% shooting (39% from three) and was named a second-team All-American. His jersey now hangs in the rafters of the Dean Dome because of what he did that year, and he gets the #1 Leap spot...
...unless Luke keeps this thing going, that is.