CHAPEL HILL — As the players on the North Carolina men’s basketball team continued practice on Tuesday at the Dean E. Smith Center, one of the Tar Heels forgot to find Luke Maye.
Running down the left side of the court, the 6-foot-8 junior forward from Huntersville was left unguarded for an easy layup.
“Luke was MVP of the (NCAA South) regional,” UNC coach Roy Williams said to his players.
Williams took it a step further as Maye jogged down the court.
“He didn’t score in the Final Four, but he was the MVP of the regional,” Williams said with a smile. “I gotcha, Luke.”
In his sophomore campaign, Maye scored 16 points against Butler and 17 points against Kentucky to earn Most Outstanding Player honors in the NCAA South Region.
He became a Tar Heels legend when he hit a game-winning shot against the Wildcats with 0.3 seconds left on the clock to secure UNC’s record 20th Final Four appearance.
During Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness event earlier this month, hip-hop artist Drake wore a hoodie that read, “Kentucky Dad.”
On that same night, a UNC fan saw a picture on Twitter of the Canadian rapper at Rupp Arena.
“Luke Maye has one of those hoodies, too,” the fan posted.
Maye said “a lot of people showed that to me.”
“I thought it was funny,” he said with a smile.
While he savored the moment against Kentucky, Maye also was reminded that he scored just two points in the Final Four as the Tar Heels claimed their sixth NCAA title.
“Coach (Williams) talked to me a lot at the end of the year. It was a pretty big moment for me, but I have two years left and I want to make the most of them,” said Maye, who averaged 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 14.2 minutes per game as a sophomore.
“I want to really be remembered for my career, not just one moment.”
With Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley no longer anchoring the post, Maye is the lone returning big man for the Tar Heels this season.
“I really worked hard this offseason, really getting in the weight room,” Maye said. “I did my time, just knowing that I have a bigger role this year that I have to play for our team to be successful.”
Accustomed to having experienced depth in the frontcourt, UNC enters the 2017-18 season with a quartet of freshman post players — Garrison Brooks, Brandon Huffman, Sterling Manley and walk-on Walker Miller.
The turnaround has placed Maye in a new leadership role ahead of the season.
“Having three freshmen bigs, who are really skilled and have a lot to learn, I’ve just tried to mentor them as much as I can and do what the older guys did for me (in my first two years),” he said.
“Whether it be the plays or the defensive assignments, I’m just helping them with all of the small things that really make everything come together when you’re inexperienced.”
But like last season’s opportunity in the NCAA Tournament, Maye is savoring the chance for an expanded role.
“Coming here I knew I’d have to work hard to earn my time. I didn’t think it would come this early, but it’s been a great opportunity for me. I’ve really kind of embraced it.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.