Luke Maye is North Carolina’s best player since Antawn Jamison.
OK, maybe that’s extreme hyperbole, but after Maye’s performance in the Tar Heels’ 87-68 win over Arkansas at the PK80 on Friday, the junior forward is putting up numbers Carolina hasn’t seen in more than 20 years.
Maye finished with a career-high 28 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and five assists -- which tied a career high. It’s his third double-double of the season, and he has scored 20 or more points in four of UNC's first five games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Maye is now the first UNC player with 100 points and 50 rebounds in the team’s first five games since Jamison in 1996-97. Given that Jamison was a two-time All-American and the national player of the year in 1998, that’s a lofty comparison.
Maye came out of nowhere to become North Carolina’s NCAA tournament savior last season. He had his first career double-double against Butler in the Sweet 16, and then scored 17 points and hit the game-winning shot against Kentucky to send the Tar Heels to the Final Four. But Maye was much quieter in the Final Four, scoring a combined two points in 23 minutes.
As a result, there remained some questions during the offseason. Was Maye’s second-weekend performance in the NCAAs a fluke? Was he ready to take the next step and become a consistent scoring option for North Carolina?
It has been only five games, but Maye has addressed those concerns and more.
Maye has become a legitimate matchup problem for opposing defenses. Proof came during a stretch at the beginning of the second half on Friday. Maye scored after getting post position, came down and buried a 3-pointer, and then went off the dribble and dumped off an assist to Garrison Brooks for an easy finish. There aren’t many 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forwards who can flourish in those areas consistently.
Once Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson suffered a torn meniscus earlier this month, forcing him to be sidelined until at least late December, North Carolina’s ability to generate half-court offense seemed like it could be a possible worry. Led by Maye, Roy Williams’ team hasn’t even missed a beat. The Tar Heels have scored at least 86 points in each game, and the inside-outside duo of Joel Berry and Maye has been among the most productive in the country.
It remains to be seen whether Maye keeps up his pace -- and no, he’s not Antawn Jamison -- but the early returns are positive and definitive. He’s certainly no fluke.