“I’m my Mother’s only son, and I refuse to fail.”
“Every time I put that uniform on, I know how privileged I am to have it on. I’m going to enjoy every minute of having that uniform on. That’s why I’m playing the way I am.”
John Calipari is always on the cutting edge of “what’s next” in the world of college basketball. Calipari is constantly striving to “be the needle” and push the mold. With that said, Calipari’s method for bringing players to Kentucky has been fairly predictable: Go after the best available and most talented seniors in high school in the country and bring them to Kentucky. Year in and year out Calipari has signed top classes while in Lexington, filled almost entirely with McDonald’s All-Americans with 5-stars next to their names.
And then Julius Mays came along…
Julius Mays didn’t necessarily fit John Calipari’s mold for incoming players. Mays wasn’t a high school senior and he wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American. Mays wasn’t oozing with athleticism or dripping with potential and talent from head-to-toe. Julius Mays was a player who for the most part, was already crafted into exactly what he was going to be. Mays completed a career that started at NC State before landing at Wright State, a mid-major program. With one year of eligibility remaining due to a redshirt, Mays went looking for a place to call home to finish his final season of college basketball.
Julius Mays didn’t fit Calipari’s mold. And honestly from the looks of things, Kentucky and Calipari didn’t necessarily appear to be the most likely fit for Julius Mays either. Mays was coming from a situation where he was the star player for his Wright State team. He was the leading scorer. He was the focal point. Why would a player want to go from that position to spending his final year potentially (and most likely) coming off the bench as a role player for the most storied program in college basketball? Why not go somewhere else where he could play the entire game, without question, for his final year?
In the end, the unlikely match was made. Julius Mays chose Kentucky in part because he wanted to be a part of a big program and he wanted a chance to be a part of a national championship contender. John Calipari offered Mays a spot because he wanted a veteran and a savvy player who could come off the bench and provide depth and perimeter shooting. Mays wanted a shot at a title, and Calipari needed a role player with proven talent to fill out his roster.
I’m not sure either got what they bargained for, but somehow the colliding parts wound up creating a fan favorite in Lexington.
In all likelihood, Julius Mays won’t be a part of a team contending for a national championship. In fact, Kentucky might not even make the tournament. And John Calipari didn’t get a role player to come off the bench. John Calipari got a leader and one of the most consistent players for the better part of the season in Mays.
Julius Mays wasn’t supposed to be fighting to avoid the NIT in his final game as a Wildcat on Rupp Arena’s floor. And John Calipari wasn’t supposed to be playing Mays 32.5 minutes per game. A year later though, that is exactly where this pairing stands.
Mays will be remembered as perhaps one of the few bright spots in this rather up and down season. The only shame is that Mays, a player who seems to take great pride in wearing the jersey and being a part of it all, will only get to spend one year and maybe just a few more games wearing the blue and white jersey. His name won’t hang from the rafters, and his team doesn’t appear poised to leave anything hanging there either. He might be part of one of the more forgettable and frustrating teams in the Calipari era. Nothing about Julius Mays and the effort he has given night in and night out, even with his own physical and athletic limitations, has been forgettable though.
Uncle Julius, you will be remembered fondly…. even though things weren’t quite what any of us expected. I think in the end, you gave us all more than we bargained for, and for that, you will be remembered.
3 Memorable Moments/Nicknames from Julius Mays:
1. The infamous piggyback ride Mays gave to Archie Goodwin
2. His former coach’s disgruntlement and skepticism after Mays committed to Kentucky.
3. Uncle Julius/Julius Treys
Lasting image of Julius Mays as a Kentucky Wildcat…