By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s already shown his reputation as a scorer/shooter is true, but guard Julius Mays’ leadership could turn out to be more important to Kentucky than even his ability to make shots.
“He’s not afraid to be vocal. He’ll talk to the guys defensively on the court, where they should be, what they should have done. If a guy doesn’t come up with the ball — we all dove around and the ball went right near Alex (Poythress) and he didn’t dive on the ball, the one where Julius tipped it from behind,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari. “I’m like, great we’re getting it, but Alex just didn’t dive for it, just let it go.
“He went up and said something. ‘Come on, man, dive on the ball, go get that ball for us.’ So he’s not afraid to say it and I think these guys really respect him.”
Mays had 14 points on 4-for-9 shooting, including three 3-pointers in the second half to help break the game open, as Kentucky beat Transylvania 74-28 Monday in its final exhibition game. The Wildcats limited the Pioneers to only 10 points in the second half and Transy was just 3-for-20 from 3-point range in the game.
Mays said it “wasn’t anything personal” when he had to say something to Poythress just like it wasn’t personal the first exhibition game when he talked to freshman Archie Goodwin after Calipari got on him for not passing.
“He (Poythress) is like my little brother, so whatever I say to him he’s not taking it wrong. I expect him if I don’t dive on the floor to get on me the same way,” Mays said. “We have a lot of young guys that have never been coached like they are by coach Cal. They have been that guy on the team and able to do whatever they wanted to do, so it is different. I have been around college for a while and know what it takes and how coaches are. For me to have the experience I have, I need to be out there with those guys and leading them.”
Kentucky led just 27-18 at halftime before Mays hit three 3-pointers in seven minutes to push the lead to 47-22. However, Mays, put a scare into the UK fans with 6:06 remaining in the game when he collided with a Transylvania player as he put up a shot. He landed, grabbed his knee and seemed in severe pain when he left the court. However, he returned before the game ended and was on the bench smiling with teammates.
“It will be OK,” Mays said. “The doctors checked it and it’s nothing serious (hyperextended knee) and I’ll be ready to play on Friday (when UK opens regular-season play against Maryland in Brooklyn),” Mays said. “Anytime you hurt your knee, you are always thinking ‘Oh my ACL, my MCL.’ I was scared at first just because of the way I landed.
“I don’t like being injured. I hate being injured. I hate when people get injured. I was glad to hear the doctors say that it wasn’t anything serious, and that everything would be alright.”
Calipari was relieved that Mays just “knocked knees” and will be able to provide the leadership Friday the coach hoped he would when he transferred to UK from Wright State this season. He’s able to play as a fifth-year graduate student.
“He played good. He’s just steady, talks, he’s not afraid to lead a little bit. He got tired, he subbed himself,” Calipari said.
Teammates notice what Mays does. He also had five assists, two steals and two rebounds in his 24 minutes of play.
“It’s always scary when your teammate goes down, so I am glad he’s good and healthy,” freshman center Willie Cauley-Stein, who had 12 points, four rebounds and three steals, said. “Julius, being older, is a leader for us. It gets us down if he’s down. We need him. He’s so much older than us, we look for him to lead. We (the freshmen) play a lot of minutes, but us freshmen are still learning ourselves. We are not in a position to lead because we still have our own stuff to work on. But Julius has been in the game for so long, he has got his game down pat and knows what he does well and what he doesn’t do well. He is taking us with him.
“When our time comes at the end in March, hopefully we will have three or four leaders and not just one. But right now he is the one that probably leads us the most.”
Mays credited his mother for raising him not to be afraid to be a leader.
“I had a strong mom and that’s just the mentality she brought me up on. I have always been like that on every team that I have played on,” Mayes said. “ I am expected to lead and have been around, but I am also learning just like they are. It is a new system for me and I am making adjustments every day playing under coach Cal. It is different but I have embraced it and enjoy the position I am in.”
That included starting the second half when Calipari put sophomore Ryan Harrow (12 points, four assists) on the bench.
“We came out with a lot more energy. We started getting more aggressive, scrambling, rebounding and running,” Mays said of UK’s second-half play. “We have been trying a lot of different things. That was our big lineup. I am sure we will go to it some. We came out with a lot of energy. We let defense turn into our offense. We just mainly came out with more energy.”