CLEMSON -- James Mays yearns for the days when he could simply walk into Littlejohn Coliseum, pick up a basketball and practice.
A litany of meddlesome and debilitating injuries instead requires him to be hooked to three different medical machines as if he were a rechargeable robot.
"I'm getting old quickly, that's what it feels like," Mays said. "But I'm still a young soul."
Keeping a sound mind has admittedly proven difficult in a year Mays sought to make noticeable improvements for NBA employers.
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A victory at 6 p.m. today on the road against No. 7 Duke (14-1, 2-0 ACC) would give the No. 24 Tigers (14-3, 2-1) a measure of instant national credibility they have yet to attain during coach Oliver Purnell's gradual rebuilding, not to mention end a 21-game series losing streak to the Blue Devils.
Mays is in the process of making a new name for himself, as well, having recently shown his coaches the fortitude to fight through rough situations -- a trait he failed to display toward the end of last season when he was benched for lack of effort.
And that was with full range of motion.
When Mays arrives at the training room, four heated pads are attached to the sprained hip suffered when he was undercut Nov. 24 against Gardner-Webb.
The same electric stimulation machine spends another 20 minutes warming his back.
Mays has experienced sporadic, intense back spasms throughout the season. His back troubles date to his senior year of high school, and team doctors have guessed they might be related to tight hamstrings, so Mays also does extra stretching before practices.
An ultrasound machine supplies heat to his sore right shoulder.
And finally, Mays moves on to his latest injury, the bone that fractured in his left hand when he thought he jammed a finger catching a warm-up pass before the Jan. 6 North Carolina game four games ago.
Mays sticks his hand in a bone growth stimulator for 20 minutes.
The hand is fitted with a light plastic cast up to his knuckles. Doctors have told him to expect to wear it for another month.
"When you hit that hand with the ball, it acts like a tuning fork and just vibrates down that thing," Purnell said.
"That pain must be excruciating, but he wants to play. It must be tough, but that just shows you his desire to play and to want to win."
Mays' facial expressions the last three games have convincingly conveyed the message.
As the point man at the front of Clemson's press, Mays still succeeds in creating turnovers by deflecting passes -- most times, it seems, with his left hand, leading to delayed wincing and the muttering of colorful adjectives to describe the pain.
The hand injury has affected his game the most. Because of the thick wrap around it, he fumbles passes and is only effective posting up on one side of the lane. An inability to grip the ball has also exacerbated his inconsistencies with free throw shooting and finishing layups around the rim.
Mays tested the NBA waters but withdrew his name before the draft after being projected as an early second-round pick at best.
NBA scouting director Marty Blake, who attended Clemson's games against North Carolina and N.C. State, said there is no way to assume a team would still not pick Mays in the first round. But the injuries appear to have prevented Mays from making strides in areas that would improve his draft stock.
"There's not much difference in his play," Blake said. "He's still a bull in a china shop. He's got a chance to play in the league, but he's got to become more polished."
Asked if he experienced any regrets in returning this season, given how it has individually played out, Mays paused.
"That's a good question," he said, reflecting again. "It comes into my head sometimes, but the decision I made to come back to school is a decision I thought would be best for me.
"Some people might look at it as he should have left when he had the chance, but nah, I'm still having a good time being around my teammates. So I'm just enjoying it. You only get one chance to play college basketball."
Even if Mays is unsure whether there will be an end to the physical discomfort this season has wrought.
"Who knows?" Mays said. "My body feels different each day."
-NO. 24 CLEMSON (14-3, 2-1 ACC) AT NO. 7 DUKE (14-1, 2-0)
• When: 6 p.m.
• Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
• TV: ESPN (cable channel 25 in Rock Hill)
• On the Web: Live Gametracker at clemsontigers.com
• Tickets: Sold out
• Clemson's probable starters: G Demontez Stitt 6-2 Fr. (8.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg); G Cliff Hammonds 6-3 Sr. (10.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg); G K.C. Rivers 6-5 Jr. (15.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg); C Trevor Booker 6-7 So. (12.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg); F James Mays 6-9 Sr. (11.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
• Duke's probable starters: G Greg Paulus 6-1 Jr. (9.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg); G DeMarcus Nelson 6-4 Sr. (13.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg); F Kyle Singler 6-8 Fr. (12.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F David McClure 6-6 Jr. (1.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Gerald Henderson 6-4 So. (12.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
• Notes: Clemson has not beaten any two of the Big Four ACC schools in consecutive games since the 1989-90 season. The Tigers have a chance tonight after beating N.C. State in their last game. ... Guard Terrence Oglesby is averaging 18.2 points per game on the road, including 25 3-pointers. ... Duke backup guard Jon Scheyer came off the bench to score 21 points in a win over Florida State the last time out. ... Clemson has only won twice in Cameron, the last in 1994-95, and has lost 21 straight to the Blue Devils. ... Hammonds needs five steals to reach 200 for his career and Rivers needs eight points to hit 1,000.
• Next up: Clemson hosts Wake Forest at 7 p.m. Tuesday.