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Making the Shot

This article was originally published in the July 2017 edition of Lake Norman Currents.
  There’s a lot more to Luke Maye’s hoop dreams than you think   So let’s set the scene. With just 7.2 seconds left in the game that would decide which team advances to fill the last spot of the 2017 NCAA Final Four, Kentucky has just made a three-point to tie the score at 73. The Tarheels, always a team to capitalize on transitional chaos, grab the ball from the net, inbound almost immediately, cross the mid-court line with the clock ticking down – five, four, three – penetrate the key then dish the ball out to the wing where sophomore, Luke Maye, who has had the hot hand all night, is open. With 2.3 seconds left, Maye squares to the basket and releases the ball.   “Maye for the win,” the commentator says as the crowd, player benches, cheerleaders, both mascots and almost everyone watching in America, rise to their feet. The ball gently rotates backwards as it floats towards the rim. Maye keeps his shooting arm extended as if to add an exclamation point to what is about to happen. He feels it. Luke Maye knows before anyone.   There is never a doubt. With just .3 seconds left, the ball swishes through the hoop. Carolina beats Kentucky. Tarheel Nation goes nuts, and Maye adds his name to a very short list of those whose last second heroics have determined the outcome of one of the season’s most important games. It is March Madness at its best. (Duke fans are enraged.)  

A matter of priority

The next morning, after celebrating with his teammates, rolling through a press conference, and then traveling back to Chapel Hill from Memphis, Luke Maye is sitting in the front row of his 8:00 a.m. managerial accounting class, learning about absorption costing and direct costing. His professor says he hasn’t missed a class all semester. Along with sports, family and faith, Maye, who grew up in Huntersville, says academics is a priority.   “School has always been a big part of my life, so of course I’d be there,” Luke Maye says, reflecting on a busy basketball weekend and sophomore year both in and out of the classroom. “For me it has always been sports, school, church and family. My parents have preached academics most of all, and said if I give my best to each one of those every single day, I should feel satisfied with the outcomes no matter what. So that’s how I try to live.”   Enrolled in UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School’s undergraduate program, Maye manages the pressure of balancing academics with athletics with championship determination. As the 2017 Tyler Zeller award winner as the team’s top student athlete, Maye says consistency and focus is key.   “To me it’s not pressure, it is a matter of priority,” the two-time ACC All-Honors student athlete says. “I make sure everything I do has a purpose. With basketball, I try to shoot as much as I can, before practice and after practice, and I put myself in situations where I’m the most uncomfortable so I can try to improve. And when it comes to the classroom, I just try to make sure everything gets done with one 100 percent effort every single day.”   And as the oldest of four boys, Maye also tries to be the standard bearer.   “My mom always told me the big brother always has to look out for the younger brothers and make sure they stay on track, and I have always tried to do the best I can to be there for them whenever I can,” he says. “Growing up I learned that your three best friends are the three guys in this room, my brothers [Cole, Beau and Drake], and they will always be there supporting you no matter what happens, so I know they are there for me and I’m there for them.   “And you always have to have high, lofty goals or else you’ll never achieve anything special,” he adds. “That’s the way it works in my family, that’s what Coach Williams always preaches, and that’s what we try to tell the younger guys, too.”  

Together as a team

Speaking of goals, just days after making the winning shot against Kentucky, Luke Maye and the Tarheels arrive in Phoenix with two games to play on their road to winning the National Championship that eluded them the previous year.   “The Final Four was about being consistent and doing what we had been practicing all year,” Maye recalls. “Be a team, give everything you can, and leave nothing in the tank.”   Against Oregon, a team that started four small players to try to keep UNC’s size and strength advantage at bay, the Tarheels win by one, and Maye remembers that post-game locker room as a top Final Four memory.   “It was pretty cool coming back into the locker room after Oregon,” Maye says. “Coach Williams told us that there are now only two teams left, just like last year, and this year we weren’t going to let what happened before happen again. That was the biggest thing, a great bonding experience, and we came through. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”   Then only Gonzaga remained.   Luke Maye explains, “When you play your game and do those little things together as a team, just like in a family, even when the pressure around you might seem to be greater, you get results and that’s what we did, especially those last few weeks of the season,” explains Maye. “That’s how we beat Gonzaga.”   And now, chatting during a break from summer classes, early morning workouts and afternoon pick-up games, Luke Maye is excited for more of the same.   “I’m blessed to have won a national championship. That’s what every college athlete works for, and I’m excited to see what the next two years will bring. I just try to get better everywhere I can, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s still to come.”
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