During the victory over Transylvania Monday, Kentucky Coach John Calipari noticed a good sign amid the clutter of a non-competitive exhibition.
Transfer Julius Mays — one of UK's few players experienced on the college level — came from behind and tipped the ball away from a Transy player. When teammate Alex Poythress failed to retrieve the loose ball, Mays gave the freshman a do-better notice.
"I'm, like, great," Calipari said. "We're getting it.
"But Alex just didn't dive for it. (He) just let it go. (Mays) 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."
Another freshman, Willie Cauley-Stein, called Mays "a big force" for Kentucky.
No doubt, UK would like Mays available for the opener against Maryland on Friday. The sight of him crumpled onto the floor clutching his right knee with 6:06 left against Transy cast some doubt on his immediate availability. But Mays dismissed the incident as a buckling of the knee and the result of rising for a shot and accidentally landing on the foot of a defender.
Mays, who began his college career at North Carolina State and then moved to Wright State, said he saw himself as a veteran presence for a freshman-dependent Kentucky team.
"I do," he said, "and I've embraced it. I think these young guys look up to me. Even the guys like Ryan (Harrow) and Kyle (Wiltjer) that have been here, I think they look up to me as well. When I speak to them, I think they take it into account. So I think it's important for me to keep doing what I'm doing and guiding guys. And even when Coach Cal's coaching them, keep pulling them to the side and give them a few words of advice from an old guy."
Of beginning his fourth college season, Mays said, "I've been around college for a while, and I know what it takes, and I know how coaches are."
After landslide victories over Northwood and Transy in exhibition play, Kentucky expects a more competitive challenge against Maryland.
"Obviously, Maryland's going to be a totally different team than the two teams we had exhibition games with," Mays said. "We just have to be ready to come out and play with high energy, play as a team, and I think we'll be fine."
Mays, who turned 23 on Sept. 4, is a graybeard on UK's team. But he's also a first-year player for Kentucky.
"It's definitely different," he said. "Obviously, I'm expected to lead because I've been around. But I'm also learning, just like they are. This is a new system for me. I'm making adjustments every day, playing under Coach Cal. It's different, but I've embraced it, and I enjoy the position I'm in."
Even with his college experience, playing for Kentucky opens up new vistas. As Harrow noted after UK's first exhibition, Mays spoke of Calipari's high-volume coaching.
"I've never played this hard in my life," Mays said. "I've never run this much, either. I'm used to being catered to just like the young guys. So it's different when you've got a coach jumping you. But, obviously, I know it's not personal. So that's an upper hand I have on them since I've been around college awhile. It's different, but it's enjoyable."
When asked about any skeptic who might wonder why a veteran player would subject himself to such a demanding environment, Mays said, "My question to them would be, 'Why not?' Why not, if you have the opportunity to play with the best of the best? Be coached by one of the best, if not the best in college? Why would you not want to do that? The easy thing is to go somewhere where someone's going to guarantee you a starting spot. ... And you might be part of a bad team. Why not come with a group of brand-new guys just like yourself and have an opportunity of a lifetime."
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com