When Julius Mays wasn't really recognizing himself on the court during NC State's slate of ACC games this past season, he knew in the back of his mind that it was time to make a change.
Mays announced this week that he'll be transferring from NC State to Wright State, which is located in Dayton, Ohio, and has been a solid program in recent years in the Horizon League. He'll have two years of eligibility remaining, and will be able to keep his business administration major.
Mays also considered Dayton and Miami (Ohio), but his former prep coach at Marion (Ind.) High, Joe Luce, is good friends with Wright State assistant coach Scott Woods. The Raiders (20-12) hired assistant coach Billy Donlon to replace the departing Brad Brownell, who was hired at Clemson.
"There is a great coach there, and it's a more guard-orientated offense," said Mays, who will be about 2 ½ hours away from home. "It will be a better fit for me.
"I think [sitting out] will be difficult, but I think it will really work to my advantage. Coach Donlon is real good at getting players better. I'll come back a better and improved player when I'm able to play."
Mays hopes to get a fresh start, but will have to sit out the next year per NCAA transfer rules. He averaged 4.6 points for his sophomore year, which is also his career average with the Wolfpack, and added 1.6 assists and 1.2 rebounds per game this past season.
"During the season, it just hit me that I just didn't have that confidence, that swagger that I'm used to having," Mays said. "I just wasn't comfortable anymore. In order for me to get back to way I want to play, I felt it was better for me to go somewhere else and start over. I need to find myself again."
The 6-foot-2, 187-pound combo guard struggled with his outside shooting this past season, dropping to 30.6 percent from the field and 29.6 on three-pointers. He shot 45.9 percent his freshman season, including an impressive 44.8 from beyond the arc. Mays' free-throw shooting held steady, and he finished his two-year NCSU career going 85.6 percent from the line.
Mays cracked double digits in five games, including 16 points in the season-opener against Georgia State on Nov. 12, 15 vs. Holy Cross (hitting three from beyond the arc) on Jan. 6, and a season-high 17 against Clemson in a narrow 73-70 loss Jan. 16.
Mays never scored more than six points following the Tigers game over the next 18 games to close out the season, creating some seeds of doubt. Mays started three games in place of junior point guard Javier Gonzalez due to injury or discipline.
"I really want to work on getting my scoring mentality back," Mays said. "I want to be a better playmaker. I need to get stronger and quicker, all those little things. I'll play a little bit of both [point guard and shooting guard]."
Mays' two biggest games probably were during his freshman season. He drained an overtime game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer to top Miami 84-81 on Jan. 27, 2009. He also played well against future first-round NBA draft pick Toney Douglas and Florida State, scoring 13 points in a loss against the Seminoles on Jan. 13.
Mays capped his freshman year by rejoining the rotation, after essentially an eight-game absence, by scoring 18 points a 74-69 loss to Maryland on March 12 in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
With the arrival of guards Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown in the 2010 recruiting class, playing time might have been difficult for Mays next year.
"I wouldn't have appreciated sitting the bench as a junior, but that wasn't at all my reason for leaving," Mays said. "I know I'll have to compete for playing time wherever. Those guys would have made me better."
Mays committed to NC State on Oct. 26, 2006, during his junior season over offers from Indiana, Southern Illinois, Cincinnati, Xavier, Western Michigan and Ball State. Assistant coach Monte Towe, who is also from Marion, recruited Mays. Rivals.com ranked Mays the No. 148 overall player in the country and the No. 34 point guard.
Mays took a different approach with his second college decision almost four years later.
"I wanted to find more of a system that fit my style of play," said Mays, whose older sister was a standout basketball player at Toledo. "At NC State, I was strictly a one, and that isn't my strength. I'm more of a combo guard who can score and make plays."
Mays enjoyed playing for NC State coach Sidney Lowe, and he said he'll miss his teammates and the Wolfpack fans. He was especially close with NCSU junior center Tracy Smith and former prep teammate and freshman wing Scott Wood.
"I really am going to miss all the fans, and there is nothing like playing in the RBC," Mays said. "It got as loud as it could get. I'll miss the coaches and my teammates. I'll miss the Raleigh area, but they'd agree that it was the right thing for me.
"Tracy Smith is one of my best friends and hope to keep him in my life. I met a few people on the team that I don't want to lose touch with. I'll keep following the team. Coach Lowe was real good, and he looked at me like a son, and not just a player. He didn't want to see me go, but at the end of the day, wanted to see me be happy."