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In John Calipari’s three seasons as UK’s head coach, 10 freshmen and sophomores have left Lexington for the NBA draft.
Consequently, the three upperclassmen Calipari has thus far brought to the program as scholarship players have all been transfers.
The latest of those players is guard Julius Mays.
Mays arrives at UK this season with a reputation as a lights-out shooter after one season at Wright State and two seasons at NC State.
“(He’s) a great kid who had performed at a high level, who could make baskets, especially jump shots, and that wanted to be a part of this and understood what it meant,” Calipari said of Mays in a preseason roundtable interview with local media.
Mays was named the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year last season after leading Wright State in scoring at 14.1 points per game. At Wright State, Mays shot 42.8 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three-point range in 30 games. The high point of his season came with 33 points against UIC when he set at Horizon League record with 19 made free throws.
Mays started 28 of 30 games at Wright State as a redshirt junior and likely would have been in a featured role for the Raiders this season if he had remained there.
Instead, Mays decided he wanted the chance to win a national championship so badly he was willing to take a bench role at UK.
“I’m not a selfish guy at all,” he said in a preseason interview with KyForward. “I know I had the opportunity to go to other big places and walk into a role like that, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to have to earn everything. I wanted to have a better chance to win than just being a scorer or playing 25 minutes a game.”
Mays is eligible to play immediately at UK since he is enrolled in a graduate program that is not offered by Wright State.
He will likely see time off the UK bench at both point guard and shooting guard.
Calipari made sure Mays had no illusions about his role before he committed to become a Wildcat.
“We don’t make any promises,” he said. “Are you good coming off the bench? Are you good if that’s the case? ‘I’m good. I’m good. I’m good.’ He knew what he was walking into.”
Since becoming UK’s head coach, Calipari has added four transfers to the program: Mays, redshirt senior guard Twany Becham, redshirt sophomore guard Ryan Harrow and the recently graduated center Eloy Vargas.
Each of Calipari’s four UK teams have featured at least four scholarship upperclassmen, but Vargas, Beckham and Mays are the only Calipari recruits of that group.
By sending so many players to the NBA draft before they have exhausted their college eligibility and signing the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation in each of the last four years, Calipari has to be creative in looking for veteran bench players.
“People say, ‘Why don’t you just go out and recruit a top 50 or 60 player that understands he’s going to be the seventh or eighth man?’ Well, good luck,” Calipari said. “The top 50 or 60 player, what does he think? How long until the NBA.”
With a rotation that is likely to feature six freshmen and sophomores, Mays is ready to take on a leadership role even though this is his first year at UK as well.
“I think it’s a great situation that I’m walking into: being a new guy but also being a guy with the most college experience,” he said. “I think there are different expectations for you. When things get tough, I think coach is going to look to me to be there for those guys and make sure they stay positive.”
Mays describes his leadership style as somewhere between a quiet, lead only by example player and a vocal leader who likes to shout and yell.
“I do tend to pull guys to the side to pick them up and to make sure that they’re staying positive and they’re not getting down on themselves,” he said.
Mays may be counted on as a veteran leader, but he is still trying to adjust to everything that goes along with being a Wildcat himself.
He describes himself as “still under-the-radar,” but he noted he has already been stopped by fans for autographs and pictures even though he has yet to appear on the court.
Even in his fifth season as a member of a college basketball team, that recognition is new for Mays.
“I loved my experience at Wright State, but the fan base wasn’t really big,” he said. “I was recognized around the city, but not like how I will be here. It was a great experience I had there, but what I’ve experienced here so far, I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
Mays has already made an impression on his young teammates.
“He just knows how to play the game really,” said freshman forward Alex Poythress. “He’s got a great shot. He’s got great moves, knows how to get to the spot where he needs to, knows how to play basketball.”
“He adds a lot of depth to our team, just being able to shoot the ball,” said sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer. “He’s a playmaker. He can pass the ball as well. He’s just a guy you want on your team and you want to play with because he’s unselfish and he’ll get you the ball.”
Even with all the preseason praise, Mays isn’t getting ahead of himself. He has no expectations for a certain amount of playing time or points scored.
“To me it really doesn’t matter,” he said. “That could be averaging 10 points, or it could be averaging four points or two points. I just want to do whatever I have to do to help this team succeed and win again.”
You can read more from the preseason interview with Julius Mays on the KyForward UK Sports Notebook on Tumblr. The Mays’ profile is the final story in the preseason UK basketball preview. You can access all the stories in the preview here. There’s still more basketball coverage to come on KyForward.com with media day Thursday and Big Blue Madness on Friday.