Luke Maye withdraws from NBA draft, will return to North Carolina for senior season

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Luke Maye is returning to the University of North Carolina. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Luke Maye is returning to the University of North Carolina. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

After a disappointing end to last season, the University of North Carolina is reloading for next year with another talented group, and its second-leading scorer from last year will be part of it. Luke Maye withdrew from the NBA draft and will return to Chapel Hill for his senior season, per his Instagram.

Maye averaged 16.9 points per game last year.

Maye took a huge jump between his sophomore and junior seasons, averaging more than double the minutes he had the previous year (14.1 to 32.2) and upping his averages across all major statistical categories. He more than tripled his points per game (5.5 to 16.9) and jumped from 3.9 rebounds per game to 10.1. His 17 double-doubles were second-most in the ACC behind only Duke big man Marvin Bagley III.

Though his numbers were much better as a junior, Maye is best remembered for his outstanding NCAA tournament as a sophomore, especially his 17-point outing against Kentucky that included the game-winner:

Maye is a skilled big who shot the 3-pointer at a career-best 43.1 percent as a junior. He can face up, put the ball on the floor, and post up to score in a variety of ways. Though he stands just 6-foot-7 and isn’t one of the most athletic big men out there, Maye is a solid rebounder on both ends of the floor.

With Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson gone, Maye is the undisputed team leader.

The class that departed UNC this offseason was a terrific one. Berry II and Pinson went to two national championships, winning one (over Gonzaga in 2017).

Berry II, who passed Michael Jordan for 13th all-time on the school’s scoring list, led the team with 17.1 points per game last year. The 2017 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Berry II was counted on during crunch time, and he delivered often. Pinson, meanwhile, did a little bit of everything last year, averaging 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and a team-leading 5.1 assists per game. A lanky athlete, Pinson could defend multiple positions, serve as the team’s de-facto point guard and pass the ball extremely well for his position.

Berry and Pinson were part of one of the most successful stretches of North Carolina basketball, and with them departing, Maye will be counted on as a leader both on and off the court along with fellow senior Kenny Williams and graduate transfer Cameron Johnson, back for his second year in Chapel Hill.

North Carolina should be a strong contender once again.

The Tar Heels’ season came to a disappointing end last year when Texas A&M blew them out of the water in the second round. It was certainly not the storybook ending that Berry II and Pinson would have wanted, and Maye acknowledged that in his Instagram post, saying, “Let’s finish our legacy the right way!” He even included the hashtag #RoadtoMinneapolis, where the 2019 Final Four will be played.

UNC has the talent — as it seemingly always does — to make a deep run. Young athletic big men Sterling Manley and Garrison Brooks showed flashes as freshmen and should only get better with a full college offseason and another year’s worth of experience. The team also brings in forward Nassir Little, the nation’s number two recruit in the 2018 class. The Tar Heels will need to find a new lead guard — perhaps in the form of rising junior Seventh Woods or five-star incoming freshman Coby White — but having Maye around for another year is a major boost.

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