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Before NFL spotlight, Drake Maye was a Charlotte high school basketball ‘assassin’

For Scott Chadwick, it was an early January game at Porter Ridge. For Jeb Lloyd, it was a holiday tournament game against Concord First Assembly. For Scott Taylor, it was a second-round playoff game at Northwest Guilford — the one that ended with star sophomore Drake Maye finishing off a dunk as the final buzzer sounded, the crowd watching in wonder as he swung into a new realm.

“It was one of those moments where it’s like, ‘He’s here,’ said Taylor, Maye’s Myers Park High School boys’ basketball head coach.

Of course, Charlotte didn’t need to be reminded of his arrival.

Today, Maye, 21, is a projected Top 4 pick in the NFL Draft, a quarterback who scouts and NFL personnel say has top-flight measureables and fearlessness, who can engender offenses that just a season ago were bereft of life. A year ago, he was a Heisman Trophy hopeful at North Carolina, carrying on the mantle of great Tar Heel quarterbacking started by his predecessor and close friend Sam Howell.

Drake Maye drops back to pass to a receiver during the Carolina Football Pro Day at UNC Chapel Hill’s Koman Indoor Practice Facility on Thursday, March 28, 2024.
Drake Maye drops back to pass to a receiver during the Carolina Football Pro Day at UNC Chapel Hill’s Koman Indoor Practice Facility on Thursday, March 28, 2024.

But five years ago, he wasn’t only a gunslinger leading the Myers Park Mustangs to a Top 10 national ranking. He wasn’t only a quarterback with offers from West Virginia and Tennessee, Clemson and Georgia, Alabama and UNC. He was also a high school basketball star, known for his passing and shooting and rebounding and for playing his best when the spotlight was the brightest.

On the field, in other words, he was a giant.

On the court, he was an “assassin,” old teammates and coaches from his Myers Park days (2018-20) say.

“You just don’t think much about him, and then he just rips your heart out,” said Scott Chadwick, the Myers Park football coach who also watched his fair share of Maye’s basketball games. “And he does it with a smile on his face.”

Myers Park’s Drake Maye steals the ball from Independence’s Tachai Miller during a game at Independence High School in Charlotte, NC on Friday, January 17, 2020.
Myers Park’s Drake Maye steals the ball from Independence’s Tachai Miller during a game at Independence High School in Charlotte, NC on Friday, January 17, 2020.

Drake Maye: A natural hooper

Jeb Lloyd knows that “assassin” version of Maye well.

Lloyd was a junior on the Myers Park boys’ basketball team when Maye was a sophomore. He knew of Maye when he was a two-sport athlete as a freshman at Hough High School but first met him after Maye transferred to Myers Park for his sophomore year.

That 2018-19 season, the Mustangs made it to the 4A state semifinals before falling to the eventual state champions (Chambers). So by the time Maye was available to join the Myers Park basketball team, practice had been going on for more than a month and the team was six or so games into the season.

At first, his teammates remember Maye as a bit deferential. And understandably so. He was intent on trying to fit in with the team, to make the extra pass, to let the guys who’d been there all season lead.

Soon, though, he asserted himself.

“I think Coach Taylor had to tell him to be more aggressive offensively,” Lloyd said. “It took him three or four games, but then it became very clear he would be the best player on the court for us. And we had a really good team, too.”

Myers Park’s Drake Maye, left, blocks the shot of Independence’s Tachai Miller during a game at Independence High School in Charlotte, NC on Friday, January 17, 2020.
Myers Park’s Drake Maye, left, blocks the shot of Independence’s Tachai Miller during a game at Independence High School in Charlotte, NC on Friday, January 17, 2020.

Lloyd compared Maye’s feel for the game as natural, ethereal. He said his instinctual rebounding reminded him of Dennis Rodman. (“He would have 15 rebounds and I swear he didn’t box one person out,” he joked.) His passing was artful, sly, ahead of his teammates. He’d catch the ball in the middle of a zone, survey the court and hit people in their hands and in their nose — those cutters unaware they were open until Maye passed them the ball. (“It could be coming at any time, I’ll find you,” Maye would say. “Just keep your hands ready.”)

As a sophomore, Maye led the team in points per game (13.6) and rebounds (8.4) and was second in assists (2.7), according to MaxPreps. As a junior those averages bumped a bit: 16.1 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists — and even added a block a game.

A big reason why the game seemed to come so easily to Maye was because he grew up around basketball greatness. Drake was the youngest — and, at now 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, somehow the smallest — of four brothers. The eldest is Luke, the Tar Heels basketball forward who hit the legendary game-winning shot against Kentucky that sent UNC into the Final Four and onto 2017 national championship glory. Cole, the second-oldest, was a national champion pitcher at Florida. Beau was a high school standout as well and a walk-on to UNC’s basketball team.

They grew up competing against each other. That meant in the classroom and at the breakfast table and over games of H-O-R-S-E. Their father, Mark, who was considered one of the top college quarterback prospects the state of North Carolina had ever seen before injuries intervened, was heavily invested in their lives. Aimee Maye, a star basketball player at West Charlotte (who could’ve played college basketball but chose not to), was, too.

Mark and Aimee Maye with their sons, Luke, Beau, Drake and Cole
Mark and Aimee Maye with their sons, Luke, Beau, Drake and Cole

It wouldn’t be uncommon for Luke to show up to Drake’s games. He’d sometimes bring his Tar Heels basketball roommate and now promising NBA talent, Cam Johnson, along with him. When Beau would watch Drake in high school, he’d sit on the Myers Park side, even if the Mustangs were playing his Hough alma mater. Aimee was almost always up in the gym’s stands during Drake’s games, cheering the team on but also scribbling notes in a notebook she’d later pass on to her youngest son.

“They love basketball in the family and just know how it’s played,” Lloyd said. “It’s just cool to watch him take his passing and vision from the football field and show it on the basketball court, and I think vice versa.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is allowing high school sports and other extra-circular activities to restart next week. The county health director says she asked CMS to further delay such activities, saying sports, especially contact sports like football, are high risk for transmitting COVID-19.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is allowing high school sports and other extra-circular activities to restart next week. The county health director says she asked CMS to further delay such activities, saying sports, especially contact sports like football, are high risk for transmitting COVID-19.

Drake Maye’s basketball talent translated to football

When asked if he ever thought he was coaching an NFL quarterback in real time — if he ever thought Drake was going to be playing on Sundays back when he was a 16- and 17-year-old kid — Chadwick shrugged.

“Honestly, I don’t think there was a moment from the time I started working with him when I didn’t think that,” said Chadwick, who’s now the head coach at Clayton High School. “From the time I started working with him, it took me five minutes to be like, ‘Woah, this kid’s different.’”

Myers Park Mustangs quarterback Drake Maye, right, side steps a Richmond Raiders defender as he looks to past a receiver during first half action on Friday, November 30, 2018. Myers Park led Richmond 27-7 at the half.
Myers Park Mustangs quarterback Drake Maye, right, side steps a Richmond Raiders defender as he looks to past a receiver during first half action on Friday, November 30, 2018. Myers Park led Richmond 27-7 at the half.

Knowing the athletic family he came from contributed to that, surely. So did his natural gifts. But the fact that Chadwick saw such potential in Maye in multiple venues, in multiple sports, made that abundantly clear, too.

Chadwick said that over the past three months, as front-office personnel and scouts and reporters have reached out to him to understand what makes Drake Maye tick, there’s one story he keeps coming back to — and it’s a basketball story.

“It was a Friday night at Porter Ridge, and at this point, I’m not sure of our record at the time, but I think we were barely just right around .500,” Chadwick began. The team was down nine entering the fourth quarter, “and you could kind of just see him sitting there on the bench” determined, focused, a bit perturbed as he looked at the scoreboard. He ended up with 12 points and nine rebounds in the quarter to close out the win. “It was like he said, ‘OK, it’s time for me to go be a basketball player now.’ You could just see that competitiveness, that drive in him. It just kind of took over.”

As in: “I’m done. I’m taking over now.”

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) breaks open on a 56-yard gain ahead of N.C. State’s Robert Kennedy (8) and Devan Boykin (12) in the third quarter against N.C. State on Saturday, November 25, 2023 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.
North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) breaks open on a 56-yard gain ahead of N.C. State’s Robert Kennedy (8) and Devan Boykin (12) in the third quarter against N.C. State on Saturday, November 25, 2023 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

That mentality has certainly bled onto the football field. So have other characteristics. His vision as a passer on the basketball court aligns with his vision as a quarterback, one who finds Josh Downs and Tez Walker as much as the third-string tight end.

He also has an ambition for flair — and a toughness that lets him get away with it. Duwe Farris, a senior at Myers Park when Maye was a sophomore who would go on to play for the North Carolina basketball team, remembers how inclined Maye was to try to leap over opposing tacklers on the football field as if he was trying to dunk over them like he did so many times in high school.

“In high school, he would always try to jump over people, and he did because he was so much bigger,” Farris said. He laughed. “So there are all these great plays where it looks like he is just dunking the football over somebody on a QB run.

“But then in college, his coaches were like, ‘You cannot do that.’ It took him a while, I think, to get it out of his system.”

North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) picks up 15-yards as he hurdles over Duke’s Jaylen Stinson (2) to set up a touchdown in the third quarter on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye (10) picks up 15-yards as he hurdles over Duke’s Jaylen Stinson (2) to set up a touchdown in the third quarter on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Farris also remembers Maye for being a great teammate off the court, off the field. When North Carolina awarded Farris a scholarship ahead of this year — he was previously a walk-on — Maye was the first person to call him and offer his congratulations. Maye reached out on Farris’ senior night, too.

That, too, is part of who Drake Maye is as a teammate. It all contributes to the NFL player he might one day become.

“Drake gives everyone this belief around him that something can be done,” Taylor, the previous Myers Park basketball coach, said. “I genuinely believe — whether he knows it or not, or even would attest to it or recognize it — that he kind of changes that. It’s just a presence in the locker room.”

Taylor added that, with Maye, “we all thought we had a shot wherever we went.”

He was speaking to the basketball triumphs behind Maye, yes. But the same could be said about the football ones still in front of him.