Every year, there is always one player at North Carolina that manages to elevate their game to the next level at some point during the season. This year, a particular individual managed to find his groove during the NCAA Tournament. Not only did he become a big-time player, but he was one of the biggest reasons that the Tar Heels are still celebrating a national championship. This young man is none other than...
Luke Maye started his UNC career alongside Kenny Williams for the 2016-2017 season. He joined a squad that had a fair share of big men in Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Joel James. Even still, he did manage to log 5.6 minutes per game, with a .375 FG% and shot 28% from behind the 3-point line. More or less, Luke Maye’s performance was pretty forgettable, coming out of a class that already had a strange feel to it given that there wasn’t a great deal of hype around Maye and Williams getting to Chapel Hill. Maye managed to play his role well when needed, but for the most part, he made sure that there was no drop-off whenever he came into the game to give rest to the other bigs.
During his sophomore campaign, Maye began seeing more time on the court after Brice Johnson and Joel James graduated. The most notable game in the pre-ACC portion of the schedule was Maye’s 11 point 3 rebound performance against Kentucky back in December. For the rest of the regular season, Maye didn’t particularly put up big numbers on the stat sheet but he did still manage to provide quality minutes for the team. The most notable game where he repeated a similar performance to the one against Kentucky was the game against NC State in Raleigh, where he went off for 13 points and 7 rebounds.
To be truthful, Luke Maye prior to March would not have been the hands down most improved player of the year. Though it is in March when Maye grew from a serviceable player, to one of the most important players on this championship Tar Heels team. His ability as an on-ball defender was one of the stronger of all of the big men on the team, which proved to be important down the stretch. This was especially important for stretch-4 players that had the ability to make plays from behind the arc. Inversely, Maye also found his stroke more often from behind the arc, causing teams to respect his shot and stretch the defense whenever he set foot onto the court.
Once the NCAA Tournament began, Luke Maye came out of the gate guns blazing against Texas Southern, almost putting up a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds. Against Arkansas, he put up a solid performance as well shooting 60 percent in 10 minutes in what was the first of many scrappy games that UNC endured throughout the tournament. Once UNC managed to reach the Sweet Sixteen, Luke Maye’s minutes increased and so did his productivity. Maye went off for 16 points and 12 rebounds against a Butler team that had difficulty matching UNC’s size on the floor. This game was enough to push Maye’s game up to another level at just the right time, as a rematch against Kentucky would prove to be one of the team’s most difficult match ups of the year:
Maye had his best performance of his career, putting up 17 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in a game where UNC needed every last one of his points including the buzzer-beater he hit to win the game and send Carolina to the Final Four. The rest is history.
Luke Maye’s amazing tournament performance was enough to push him to most improved player of the year. He managed to get hot at the right time of the year and is showing strong signs of what we can expect next year. With Hicks and Meeks graduating, Maye has proven that he will be able to cause big problems for teams next year when he’s joined by Sterling Manley, Brandon Huffman and potentially the return of Tony Bradley. It’s safe to say we can expect to hear a lot more roars of Luke’s name roaring through the Smith Center next year coming off of an amazing tournament run.