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Thursday May 26th

Luke Maye brings versatility to UNC frontcourt

<p>UNC forward Luke Maye (32) catches a pass during the basketball team's game against UNC-Pembrook on Friday.</p>
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UNC forward Luke Maye (32) catches a pass during the basketball team's game against UNC-Pembrook on Friday.

During his first year at UNC, the three-star recruit rarely left the cushioned seats on the sidelines. With Joel James and Isaiah Hicks coming off the bench, Maye wasn’t called frequently to relieve starters Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in 5.4 minutes per game.

But the graduation of James and Johnson leaves UNC’s frontcourt much thinner than it was a season ago. Hicks moves into the starting lineup, and with first-year Tony Bradley as the only new big, Maye finds himself the most experienced reserve big man and likely the first person Coach Roy Williams will turn to at the 4 or 5.

“I’m ready to play this year,” Maye said. “I’ve improved a lot over the summer and am just ready to step up and help my team do the best we can.”

Williams thinks the early signs show Maye is ready, too.

“He’s been playing with confidence,” Williams said after the team’s exhibition against UNC-Pembroke. “He played pretty doggone well in the scrimmage against Memphis. All the guys (on) the staff (voted) on who we thought were the most impressive people, and he was one of the top four.”

Maye will be called upon to do a lot of things Johnson and James did: Box out. Crash the boards. Score around the rim.

But what makes Maye unique among the recent big men in UNC history is his shooting touch. He has a much deeper range than a typical power forward, taking seven 3-point shots in the 2015-16 season and draining two. The rest of the UNC frontcourt took zero 3-pointers all last season.

This makes Maye an attractive option as a center in a small-ball lineup, being able to both post up and spread the floor to create mismatches on the perimeter. That sort of lineup is something Williams could use often this season for the Tar Heels.

After a strong showing in the UNC-Pembroke exhibition — where he had 15 points, eight rebounds, five assists and a 3-pointer, to boot — the early signs seem good for Maye to take the next step that Williams expects from his sophomores.

“I think the biggest jump is from some guys’ freshman year to his sophomore year,” Williams said. “You just get more comfortable, you realize all this junk that coach is throwing at you is not nearly as complicated as you thought it was as a freshman.”

That level of comfort will help Maye slide into a larger supporting role and complete his own goals for the season.

“I just want to do everything I can to help my team, whether it’s rebounding, scoring, facilitating,” Maye said.

“I’m just out there trying to make my team better.”

@sjdoughton

sports@dailytarheel.com



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