LSU senior point guard Skylar Mays wanted to make certain of one thing: there were plenty of basketball players from across the country dealing with the same empty feeling and future uncertainty.
In typical fashion, Mays didn’t want to be the center of attention, preferring to get others involved.
“A lot of guys missed out on this,” Mays said of last week’s cancellation of the Southeastern Conference tournament and what would have been the start of March Madness because of the COVID-19 public health threat. “I don’t want to make it about me.”
But this was supposed to the final postseason run for Mays, who had endeared himself to LSU’s ardent fan base by staying home where he poured his heart and soul into his hometown university, earning distinction both on and off the court.
Mays was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection for the first time where his intangibles – leadership and a steady hand – rivaled his team-high and career best 16.7 scoring average and 3.2 assists.
Moreover, Mays, a 3.93 student, is set to graduate this spring in kinesiology with a concentration in human movement/pre-med and was named the 2019-20 Academic All-America of the Year for all Division I men’s college basketball teams.
“Today (Tuesday) would have been the first day of March Madness,” Mays said. “Not being able to experience that is just weird. Looking back at it, thankfully I’ve been able to experience it at least once and that’s something definitely I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Mays enjoyed his first taste of the NCAA tournament a year ago, when the Tigers advanced to the Sweet 16.
With the Tigers (21-10) seeded third in the SEC tournament, they were primed for the first time since 2006 for consecutive March Madness trips.
First, the SEC announced it was halting its postseason tournament followed by a similarly eerie decree from the NCAA about its popular event.
Mays was eager to begin his final SEC tournament because of the way LSU finished the regular season, demolishing Georgia 94-64. It headed to Nashville to ultimately await the South Carolina-Arkansas winner on March 13.
“We had the momentum going into the SEC tournament,” Mays said. “Georgia was our best game of the year as a team. Some of the guys went to see some of the (SEC tournament) games Wednesday night. We’re sitting there on our phone and we see the NBA cancelled its season. That was a kind of a red alert.”
Mays said the team went through its normal shootaround March 12 and acclimated itself with the surroundings at Bridgestone Arena before returning to their hotel and in the blink of an eye the tournament was cancelled.
Not long thereafter, the NCAA pulled the plug on March Madness, thus officially closing the book on the career of Mays along with fellow seniors Marlon Taylor and Marshall Graves.
“It was just kind of weird after they cancelled the whole thing,” he said.
Mays acknowledged that most of his information about the coronavirus pandemic had come via social media, a topic that wasn’t necessarily on the team’s radar before heading to Nashville.
“I’m with the team every day and we weren’t really talking about the virus in this magnitude,” he said. “Once everything kind of fizzled out we hadn’t been talking about this virus even the week before and then come to find out, it’s the main thing to talk about and the main thing that’s got the world on freeze right now.”
Mays was LSU’s only player this season to start in all 31 of the team’s games, stretching his streak to 70 consecutive starts and finished with 121 career starts in 129 games. He compiled a team-best 27 double-figure scoring games and wound up this season producing nine of his top 10 career scoring performances, highlighted by a pair of 30-point efforts against Utah State and Auburn.
He finished ranked tied for third in the SEC in steals average (1.8), seventh in field goal percentage (49.1%) and eighth in scoring. Mays, a finalist for the NCAA Senior Class Award as the only player in school history to score 1,600 points (1,617, 10th all-time), 400 rebounds (471), 300 assists (382, 8th all-time) and 200 steals (213, 6th all-time).
“For the most part I’m at peace with it, I left everything out on the floor,” Mays said of the abrupt halt to his career. “I feel like in my heart, I did all that I could for these past four years. I didn’t take the game for granted.
“Obviously, you always want more. As a competitor you want to win the national championship every year, but things don’t go like that. As long as I can look in the mirror and say that I’ve put everything in me I had into this university, which was an easy thing to do after all of the opportunities it’s given me, I can sleep well at night.”
He’s also didn’t express any angst over what the potential impact of successful showings in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments would have meant to his NBA draft status.
While acknowledging breakout performances on either postseason stage would have certainly enhanced his draft prospects, Mays believes his body of work over the course of his senior season paid significant dividends.
“I’ve heard I’m trending upward,” he said. “I played well this year. For the most part, I was pretty consistent. There’s always things I need to improve on, but I think I helped myself this year. There’s been vague feedback which I assume because nobody wants to give you a promise this early. The whole NBA’s on freeze. I don’t know how they’re approaching this thing.”
In typical Mays fashion, he was more empathetic about his teammates losing out on valuable exposure in hopes of catching the eye of an NBA scout or general manager.
“I think I’ve put myself in a great position and I obviously I could have helped myself more by playing well in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “But my teammates could have used this tournament to further prove themselves. We were able to win a lot and that’s going to help as far as my stock. Going forward, we just have to see how things go and go from there.”
The NBA suspended play March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic with the majority of its teams having played 65 games, thus leaving an additional 17 to complete the regular season.
The league’s annual draft is scheduled June 25 at the Barclays Center in New York, but even that remains uncertain until the league is able to resume play.
Until then Mays, who expects to complete work on his degree this spring, will try to remain active in accordance with new social distancing policies.
That leaves out the option of being able to go into a gym and put together a game of pick-up basketball, lifting weights or conditioning.
Even the typically unflappable Mays has been tested during these difficult times.
“We’re advised to stay in, avoid touching too much stuff and not to have gatherings of more than 10-12 people,” Mays said. “There are plenty of things that I can do in my own room that don’t require a lot of space. It’s very limited but you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.
“It could be a blessing in disguise, things happen for a reason. Everybody’s in this situation where they’ve got to sit around. It’s definitely tested my patience. I probably need to rest my body for a little bit; get back 100% healthy. This is a good time for guys to decompress. Just wait it out and see what happens, make the right decision and go from there.”