Clemson University

Mays returns to campus after spring fling with the NBA

CLEMSON -- There was a reason Clemson's James Mays nearly followed in Renaldo Balkman's footsteps.

Mays kept hearing comparisons to the former South Carolina forward.

In terms of athleticism, energy and even offensive weaknesses, Mays said he believes he is Balkman's equal. Mays points out that the Tigers beat USC both times the two players were on the same floor, often matched against the other.

The difference is Balkman turned pro after his erratic junior season and stunned analysts and fans when New York chose him in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft.

Mays entered the summer hoping to be the next Balkman, but he watched last week's draft content with his decision to return to Clemson for the second session of summer school, which began Thursday.

"If you don't have the mindset, 'I want to stay in (the draft)', you're not going to succeed," Mays said. "I wanted to shock the world and do my best to put myself in position to get drafted. I put myself in a good position, but not the position I wanted to be in."

Mays, a 6-foot-8 junior forward from Garner, N.C., was the first early entrant to withdraw from the draft, taking advantage of a rule allowing prospects to test the NBA draft waters once but to retain their college eligibility if they do not sign with an agent.

Based primarily on Internet conjecture, Mays said he entered the evaluation period as a probable middle second-round pick.

He was invited to the NBA's pre-draft camp in Orlando, where 62 second-tier prospects played in front of team personnel in late May.

Mays drew positive early reviews and was invited to a workout by Houston, but he failed to generate as much buzz as hoped.

Only first-round picks receive guaranteed contracts, and no team offered Mays a first-round promise.

"I had to go off instinct," Mays said. "It's a lot of hearsay."

Which could explain why Mays, who read he improved to an early second-round projection, was one of four early entry camp attendees to withdraw from the draft. Thirty-two of the 59 early entrants withdrew.

Ryan Blake, the NBA's assistant director of scouting, said this draft class' depth and the usual number of second-round picks spent on international players make it impossible to predict whether Mays would have been selected.

"Withdrawing his name was the best choice," Blake said. "You want first round. Otherwise, your percentages go extremely down."

Under NCAA eligibility rules, Mays had to pay for nearly all of the expenses incurred in the process. Though the NBA covered the cost of the camp flight and hotel, Mays said he and his parents ended up paying more than $1,000 for the experience.

Although Clemson endured the risk of losing a key starter from what shapes up as one of the ACC's most veteran clubs, it also stands to reap the reward of having the NBA scrutinize Mays' skills.

Mays said he was told he needed to improve the consistency of his mid-range jumper and add a go-to offensive move in the post.

With that in mind, Mays hopes his renewed confidence rubs off on teammates as they prepare to go to the Bahamas for a pair of exhibition games Labor Day weekend.

"I didn't want what I learned to be for nothing," Mays said. "I've traveled, played against some of the best dudes across the country, and it was fun. It was a good way to network, too.

"I wouldn't trade this summer for the world."