Most senior moments last a little longer than a handful of seconds during two free throws four games before the end of the season, but for Twany Beckham, that’s exactly what his moment was reduced to.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to go into the game,” Beckham said Friday before his Senior Day game against Florida. “I didn’t know if I’d ever step on the court again with my injury.”
A nagging back injury that led to surgery in January has kept Beckham off the court the rest of the season, but it didn’t make his bear hug with John Calipari in the final seconds of the Mississippi State game or his career any less memorable.
The standing ovation he received against his former school as he checked in and then checked back out in between free throws was a moment he said he will never forget.
“Coach knew that against Florida, our last game of the season, would be a game we really needed,” Beckham said. “He wasn’t sure that I would be able to get in game at that time, so he wanted to see if I wanted to get into the game one last time, so I agreed to.”
Not everything has gone according to plan for Beckham this season, but the Louisville native wouldn’t take anything back from his time at Kentucky as he gets ready for Senior Day against Florida (Saturday at noon on CBS). He scored his first career UK points in the Lafayette game and saw a season-high nine minutes against Eastern Michigan.
“I still feel like I made the right decision,” Beckham said. “I had my opportunities. I’ve always worked hard and injuries just kind of held me back.”
What: Kentucky (20-10, 11-6 SEC) vs. No. 11/9 Florida (24-5, 14-3 SEC)
When: Saturday, noon ET
Where: Rupp Arena (23,000)
Game notes: UK | Florida
Preview: In do-or-die time, Calipari hopes his Cats figure out how to survive
Video: Cal, Mays, Beckham, Poythress and Harrow
Record: 24-5, 14-3 SEC
Head coach: Billy Donovan (410-163 at Florida
Player to watch: Erik Murphy (12.3 points, 5.0 rebounds)
Series history: UK leads 122-24
Last meeting: Florida won 69-52 on Feb. 12
While Beckham’s final season didn’t pan out as he would have hoped, Julius Mays’ season has been a different flavor of bittersweet.
After transferring from Wright State, Mays was hoping to take a leap from the mid-major level and help the Cats on a second consecutive title run as one of the lone veterans on Coach Cal’s youngest team to date.
Barring a late-season turnaround, those ambitions look like they could fall short, but it hasn’t been from a lack of effort from Mays. The graduate student has averaged 9.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.9 assists during his only year at UK, including some outstanding performances at vital times for the young Wildcats.
“We would struggle (without him),” Calipari said.
Though UK’s team goals may not come to fruition, “Uncle Julius” evolved into the veteran piece that everyone hoped he would be. That role couldn’t have been more evident than his 24-point standout game against Missouri after the team had lost Nerlens Noel to a season-ending injury just three games earlier.
Needing a big win to bolster the Cats’ postseason résumé, Mays lifted the Cats with clutch 3-pointers and key overtime free throws.
“I’ve done the best I can and hopefully I get a warm welcome or a standing ovation,” Mays said of what he expects Saturday.
Although Beckham likely won’t play alongside Mays on Saturday, walking through the senior hoop at Rupp and receiving his framed jersey will be a bit surreal for him. It was six years ago that Beckham played his final high school game at Ballard High School on the Rupp Arena floor in the Kentucky state tournament.
“It’s going to be a sweet feeling,” Beckham said. “Kentucky is my dream school. I don’t want to leave. I haven’t hung my head at all this year, just trying to stay positive through the whole process and be there for my teammates.”
Despite this season’s setbacks, Beckham is still looking forward and hopeful to keep basketball in his future.
“I’m just taking my time to try and get healthy,” Beckham said. “I’m going to sit down with Coach after the season and see if I’m healthy and what options I’ll have. If I can get healthy, I want to continue to play basketball.”
Mays is also in a state of flux regarding his future with basketball. He will be walking away with a master’s degree in kinesiology and health promotion after this year, but his experience at UK has sparked an interest in coaching.
“There has always been coaching interest,” Mays said. “That’s always been a thought. Right now I don’t know if that’s what I’ll do, what I want to do, but I love the game and I honestly couldn’t see myself being done with it if I stopped playing it. I feel like I have to be around it.”
Although things haven’t gone as planned for either player, Mays is hoping he can prolong his playing career just a little bit longer and propel it into the NCAA Tournament with a win over Florida.
“This is it for me,” Mays said. “If these guys decide to come back, they’ve got the eligibility to come back. I’m done, so they can hate me for the rest of their life, but I’m leaving it all out there tomorrow.”