LEXINGTON - When Julius Mays transferred from Wright State to Kentucky, he knew there might be “some bumps in the road” this season for the young Wildcats.
“Obviously I am not happy that we took the losses that we did, but I think it only made us better. I don’t think if we had not taken the losses that we would have put as much work as we have in the last few weeks,” said Mays, who averages 8.4 points and 2.6 rebounds per game.
“I don’t think there is any team in college basketball that is that much better than us. There might be teams with more experience, but as far as man to man I don’t think we are outmatched by anybody. I think we have just as much, if not more, talent as anybody in college basketball and this is all about us coming together and working together and not settling for anything but getting better.”
Mays has always been a scorer, but he’s struggled to consistently make shots at UK. However, he says that has not impacted what he is willing to do to help the team. He has 54 assists and just 17 turnovers while averaging 30.9 minutes per game, the second most on the team.
“I am willing to do whatever whether it is knock shots down or just come in and be that glue guy and it’s not even about scoring but just being out there on the court and making extra pass or getting defensive stops,” Mays said, who has 27 3-point goals,. “I am ready to do anything and willing to do anything. I don’t look at myself as having just one particular thing to do, but I know the team needs me to make shots for us to be very successful. I do know that.”
He’s played for three coaches in his collegiate career that started at North Carolina State. He says UK coach John Calipari is “very different” from the other two coaches he’s had.
“I think he has pushed me the hardest. He is 100 percent real and is always going to be honest. He is like my dad away from home,” Mays said. “He always has your back. He is not a guy that will throw you under the bus. He is just a great guy and I am glad that I got to the opportunity to play for him.”
Here are other insights Mays had to share on this season and his teammates during a recent interview:
Question: Do you look forward to playing at new places in the SEC that you have not been to before?
Mays: “I am a guy that likes to go to a lot of new places. I have always seen a lot of the SEC places on TV, but I have never been there. I played at Florida and to get a chance to play at Vandy, a place I have always seen on TV, and all the other places we will be playing will be exciting. We played at Florida my freshman and sophomore years (at North Carolina State). It was a fun atmosphere. Their fans are pretty crazy, but it’s a great place to play.”
Question: How has the experience at Kentucky been so far compared to what you expected?
Mays: “Seeing it from the outside and then actually being a part of it you can’t actually find words to even explain it. You always heard about how crazy it was to play at Rupp Arena or how crazy the Kentucky fans were anywhere but until you experience it first hand I really had no idea it was as serious as it was. We have a great fan base. Win, lose or draw, they support us.”
Question: Has there been anything that has surprised you at all?
Mays: “Just really how big and how supportive our fan base is and how much they are behind us and want to see us be successful. When we lose, they hurt just as much as we do. That’s the most shocking thing to me.”
Question: Has it been hard adjusting to everybody knowing you?
Mays: “Other places people knew me, but here it is like a rock star. Everywhere you go, if one person spots you, it means about 15 or 20 more are going to spot you. You might be swamped with signing autographs or taking pictures, which is exciting. I am not a guy that minds anything like that. I like to do anything to make anyone’s day or put a smile on anyone’s face.
Question: Is there more pressure on this team to succeed than is fair or does the team put even more pressure on itself?
Mays: “My main thing coming into the season was that expectations are going to be high just because of what last year’s team did. But like I said from the very beginning, this team is totally different from last year’s team. It is a whole new team. It is different guys, so you can’t expect one team to do the same exact thing another team did.”
Question: You talked a lot in the preseason about being a leader. It seems like you are doing that by watching, but how do you feel you have done in that area?
Mays: “I wouldn’t call it hard. At some point at the beginning it was harder because I was still learning a lot myself playing under a new coach and there were things I didn’t know. It wasn’t really hard, but there were things that were hard to learn yourself and also teach young guys as well. But when you are on the court, there’s only so much a coach can do from the side so to have a guy like myself with experience on the court to be able to talk to guys is good.”
Question: Is it easy for you to talk to other players on the court?
Mays: “I haven’t always been vocal. I have been more of a guy to sit back, but coming in here I knew I was going to have to be more vocal. It is a thing that comes with age, maturity and experience and you become more comfortable doing it. That is what has made me more comfortable pulling young guys under my wings and talking to them a lot.”
Question: Have you played with anyone like freshman center Nerlens Noel before?
Mays: “I have not. I have played with a lot of versatile players, but I have never played with a guy that has the defensive instincts that he has and is as athletic as he is and plays with a lot of energy like he does. I can’t say I have played with anybody like that before. He is not a guy who cares about scoring. If he is presented with the opportunity he takes it, but he is not a guy who comes into the huddle demanding the ball or won’t rebound if he doesn’t get the ball. He is not a guy who lets it get to him mentally and affect the rest of his game. He takes pride in his defense and protecting the rim and having our back. I think it is great that he has that mindset.”
Question: What is life like rooming with Willie Cauley-Stein? Does he ever have a down moment?
Mays: “I just moved in late in the summer and they moved me in that room and we were roommates. They are all like my little brother, so it didn’t matter to me. I had no idea what he would be like. I didn’t know anything about him, how he acted, what to expect. That is something I kind of worry about being the older guy and just getting thrown in with a roommate because if you don’t know anything about him — is he clean, will be keep the room dirty — but it has been a really good experience. I love him like I have known him my whole life.
“He is different. Quiet sometimes. You get a good laugh out of him. Other times you can talk to him and it will just be a regular conversation. He is a different guy, but he embraces being different and I respect that. A lot of guys are scared to show they are different. He embraces that.”
Question: Does he surprise you on court with his athleticism?
Mays: “At first, I was surprised, but now I am not because of practices with him every day and I am seeing the things he can do every day. Now the is implementing those into games, he is getting more confidence in himself and realizing how good he can really be. If he keeps working like he is, the sky is pretty much the limit for him.”
Question: Can his energy be contagious on the court?
Mays: “I would say no because Willie is a different dude. You don’t want that. He is great. I know what to expect from him, but you never know what is going to come out of Willie’s mouth. I would never say it is contagious. He is just funny dude. You never know what to expect from him on the court. It is how it is off the court, too. He is working hard and making improvements. He is going to be really good. The sky is the limit for him.”
Question: Do you ever have a time when there is not a smile on your face?
Mays: “Very rarely. I am always a guy that is smiling. There is not too much that brings me down unless something happens to my family. I enjoy life and like to show it, so I smile a lot. As far as I can remember and my mom always tells me that I have never stopped smiling for as long as she can remember, so I guess I have been like this my whole life. Full of energy and always trying to make other people laugh and bring the best out of them and get them to smile. I am always enjoying life so I like to pull that out of them.”
Question: Does that smile help on this team considering how many players seem to have trouble having fun during games?
Mays: “I think at times we forget to have fun with the thing we have enjoyed and loved for our whole lives. Not to say we are taking it too serious, but we don’t even enjoy the things we should enjoy. Me and Willie are guys who do enjoy it. We like to try and get everybody else to do the same. Ryan (Harrow) is also a guy who is always smiling. We all try to get that so everybody can feed off it and not be so down on themselves and enjoy it.”
Question: Finally since you wore a Cincinnati Reds hat after one game, are you a Reds fan?
Mays: “I am not really a fan of baseball. If I was going to be a fan of anybody’s, it would be the Yankees because all my family is from New York. I am not a Reds fan. I just like the hat.”