“He is a great kid who had performed at a high level who could make baskets, especially jump shots, and that wanted to be part of this and understood what it means. We don’t make any promises. ‘You good coming off the bench?’ He knew what he was walking into. It’s hard,” said the Kentucky coach. “People say why not recruit a top 50 or 60 player that understands he will be the seventh or eighth man. Well, good luck. To say you just go find that guy, it’s impossible. Those guys think they are starters and they are one-and-done. It’s hard to do.”
Mays doesn’t think that way and understands he’ll likely come off the bench to back up guards Ryan Harrow and Archie Goodwin.
“It was the chance to be part of something great. To be able to come in on a daily basis and compete against the best that there is in college basketball and to go out every night and play with the best and having the best opportunity to win,” Mays said when asked why he came to UK. “I¿felt like coming to Kentucky gave me that and was something I wanted to take advantage of.”
Mays certainly adds experience. He played two years at North Carolina State before transferring to Wright State. After sitting out one season, he averaged 14.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals per game last season while shooting 42.4 percent from 3-point range. In his career, he’s played over 2,000 minutes and scored 693 points.
“He is a knockdown shooter. He can shoot well from the outside, shoot well from midrange,” Harrow, who spent one year at North Carolina State before transferring to UK last year, said. “He is a really good shooter. He is seasoned in the game. He is a fifth-year senior and knows a lot about the game and is helping us out a lot. He is definitely a good guy to be around.¿If he wasn’t, coach Cal would not put him on the team.”
Here are more insights from Mays, who is from Marion,¿Ind.
Did you ever envision how things have changed for you in the last year?
Mays: “Not at all. I was playing Wright State last year and I was thinking I was going to graduate and play another year and just do whatever. It is amazing how things happen and I¿am blessed to be in the position I¿am in.”
Question: What were your impressions of Kentucky basketball and UK fans before you came here and has that changed?
Mays: “Even when they were losing, their fan base was crazy and showed out. These fans are loyal. Being an Indiana guy, I knew about the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry and knew those two had the most loyal fans even when they were bad. Hearing about and living it is nothing like when you live it.”
Question: Did you watch the Kentucky-Indiana game last season that Indiana won on a last-second shot?
Mays: “I did. I watched on the big screen. It was intense. I was yelling at the big screen like I was a player out there. It was very intense and a very good game. Me knowing Marquis (Teague), I was pulling for him and wanted to see him do well and since I¿had a relationship with his family, I wanted to see him succeed. For those guys to be so young and do the things they did was amazing.¿I just don’t see how anybody couldn’t appreciate what they did last year.”
Question: Tell me about your friendship with point guard Marquis Teague and what if anything he told you that might have influenced your decision to come to UK?
Mays: “It started out young. I think I was in seventh grade or eighth grade — I am from Marion but I went to Indianapolis and played where his dad had an AAU team so he was my coach. He used to practice up with us and that’s how our relationship started. Obviously not being too far from each other and how big he was in high school basketball, we knew about each other. I¿have always had a good relation with his father.
“I didn’t talk to them when I transferred. I also had a relationship with Ryan (Harrow). I talked to Ryan before I did it and that made things a lot better for me as well.
“But I love the Teagues. Marquis’ dad was intense. Very intense in practice and games, but he is a great guy. I¿love him. He is a real great guy and took my game to another level when I was a young guy and I appreciated that.”
Question: How would you describe your play/game?
Mays: “One person might call me a point guard, the next person might call me a shooting guard. I love to shoot the ball, but I¿have always defined myself as just a true combo guard. I am not a point guard, not a shooting guard. I am just a guard. I can shoot the ball and score, but I can also pass. I don’t define myself as just a shooter. Everybody says I am coming here as a shooter because I shot a high percentage, but I¿do more than just shoot the ball.”
Question: If you are the first player off the bench, could you play both guard spots or even small forward if needed?
Mays: “Offensively probably, but defensively guarding a small forward in this league would be tough because they would probably be bigger than me, but I¿am willing to do it. I am willing to play any position for us to do well. Nothing is guaranteed, but coach Calipari told me I would be walking into a great situation with all those guys leaving and I¿had an opportunity to come here and do a lot of great things. He told me I would have to compete for everything, but that’s what I wanted for my last year. I didn’t want anything handed to me. I wanted to have to work for everything.”
Question: Do you feel like an old man on this young team and how much can your experience help these players?
Mays: “I¿have the most experience on the team, but also being a new guy I know that when the going gets tough and it will get point at some time for everybody, me just being there and being an outlet for guys knowing I¿have had a lot of experience will be vital to this team. I know I¿have played games against Florida and teams like that. I have played Duke and Maryland. Hopefully that helps. I have been in crazy, loud arenas when people are chanting things that you don’t expect to hear like talking about your mom. I am used to that. From N.C. State to Wright State to now has been a great deal of experience and a great learning experience I feel has helped me to where I¿am right now.”
Question: Did you ever think it would work out for you and Ryan Harrow to be teammates after you transferred to Wright State when he was arriving at North Carolina State as a freshman?
Mays: “It’s crazy. It was just meant for us to play with each other. A lot of people thought I¿left N.C. State because of him and he was highly touted but that’s not the reason. I don’t back down from any challenge. Obviously I came here and he’s here again. So if that was the case, I would not be here. I¿am excited for the opportunity to play in the backcourt with him. I feel like we will do some great things. He is very good. He is real crafty with the ball and off the dribble I have not seen anybody that can stay in front of him and he can really pass.”