Julius Mays was a wildcard coming into the season. After being named 2nd-Team All-Conference and awarded the Horizon League’s Newcomer of the Year award last season at Wright State where he averaged 14.1 PPG, Kentucky fans didn’t know what to expect as the 5th year senior decided to transfer to Kentucky for his final season. Julius doesn’t jump extremely high, he doesn’t have the blazing speed of an Archie Goodwin or the lengthy wingspan of Nerlens Noel, but he does have an invaluable skill that can not be taught. Experience. On a team that has at times started 3 Freshman and 2 Sophomores, Mays is the wise veteran on a team full of baby-faced blue chip recruits.
One thing that most Kentucky fans knew of Julius’ game was that he could flat-out shoot. He shot over 42% from the 3PT line last season at Wright State and also connected on 83% of his FT attempts. But for some reason, throughout the course of the year Mays has struggled to find his shot, leaving Kyle Wiltjer as the team’s lone consistent outside threat, something that has severely hindered the Wildcats offense. During his roughest stretch of the year, an 9-game slide beginning with UK’s home loss to Baylor and ending with another home loss to Texas A&M, Mays shot a measly 12-49 from behind the arc, a 24.5% mark. During that stretch the Wildcats dropped 3 games while Mays’ minutes diminished, dropping from 39 minutes against Baylor to 23 against Texas A&M. The reason is simple, despite the leadership and other intangible components that Mays brings to the game, Kentucky simply can’t afford to have him on the floor if he’s only making 1 of every 4 shot attempts.
However, in the 7 games since which Kentucky has posted a 6-1 mark in, it seems that “Uncle Julius” has finally found the shot we’ve all anticipated seeing from him this season. Since the Tennessee game on January 15th, Mays has shot an astounding 19-32 from 3PT range, a 59.4% average, and has knocked down 2 or more 3’s in all but 1 of those games. Not only that, but he is now able to use his deadly pump fake to create open shots for himself inside the paint as well. Mays has now got the Kyle Wiltjer factor when it comes to shooting, meaning that every time the ball comes out of his hand I am expecting it to go in, which is a far cry from what I believed just a little over a month ago. Julius knocking down shots is important especially when he and Kyle Wiltjer are on the floor together, as we’ve seen from the beautiful 2-man game they’ve run together much more often lately. Having 2 consistent shooters on the court will open up the lanes for Archie and Ryan to attack the paint off the dribble by minimizing the amount of help opposing defenders can offer off of those 2.
I think I can speak for most Kentucky fans when I say I’m glad that Julius finally seems comfortable with his own shot and his own ability to make plays in the offense, averaging 12 PPG over the team’s last 5 games. With his improved shooting and veteran basketball IQ, that adds another dynamic to Kentucky’s offense and has helped take Kentucky from a fringe bubble team to a contender for the SEC Championship over the last month. Get your 3 goggles ready.