The art of hyperbole has been perfected by the lauding of freshmen who make an impact early in the non-conference season and are suddenly the second coming of Kevin Durant. With brand-new players arriving on campus each season on the heels of dominant high school careers, it’s easy to get carried away in the 4-minute YouTube highlight reels and gaudy scouting reports from national scouts.
But early in the 2011-12 season it was difficult, if not impossible, not to raise eyebrows and be giddy watching 20-year-old freshman Todd Mayo play. Through 10 games he had scored in double-digits seven times, peaking with a 22-point performance against Northern Colorado in his first collegiate start.
With senior Darius Johnson-Odom and experienced sophomore Vander Blue in front of him, Mayo was bound to regress to the freshman mean. And he did, but the Golden Eagles saw flashes of that player the rest of the 2011-12 season. The active slasher was more than just a spell for Johnson-Odom, who averaged 32.9 minutes per game; Mayo was an integral piece to a bench that, outside of Davante Gardner, produced little scoring punch.
[PLAYER BREAKDOWN: Todd Mayo's 2012-13 season]
But what happened to that player? It’s rare to see a blossoming freshman—albeit an older one—suffer the kind of regression Mayo did in his sophomore season. His story has been told many times: being sent home last summer to better understand the value of his scholarship; being ruled academically ineligible for the first semester and, later in the season, being passed up at times for former walk-on Jake Thomas and seldom-used freshman Jamal Ferguson, who transferred last month.
Reasons for his deficiency and smaller role have varied, and most have substance. By the time Mayo made his return to the lineup the Golden Eagles had played 10 games and around 100 practices that Mayo did not participate in, putting him behind the proverbial 8-ball when he made his return on Dec. 22. Conditioning could have played a role—Mayo said he worked out twice a day and shot 500 jumpers, but there’s nothing that can simulate a Buzz Williams practice or a Division I basketball game.
Blue’s improved play as a junior saw him average 34.2 minutes in the 25 games post-Mayo return, and immediate transfer Trent Lockett’s perimeter game at small forward left little time for Mayo to spread his wings, regardless of if he had been ready to play.
Still, Mayo averaged 12.6 minutes per game in Big East and tournament play, more than enough time to break zones and utilize the fast break to put up numbers. But it never happened. Mayo scored in double-digits three times in that span, down from eight the previous year. He never seemed to truly get into the flow of the game—outside of his 13-point effort at South Florida—and usually was uncharacteristically passive when the ball swung to his side.
And that’s where we found Mayo’s major deficiency last season: after shooting out of the gates as an aggressive freshman scorer, the 6-foot-3 guard limited himself to outside looks as a sophomore, and the results were telling.
Mayo arrived in Milwaukee as a polished product. Two years at prep school gave him the experience needed to make an immediate impact, and that summer a handful of teammates told Paint Touches they were completely blown away by his readiness and calm demeanor in pickup games and individual workouts.
[MORE SYNERGY: The transformation of Jamil Wilson]
There isn’t a statistic for it, but Mayo moved seamlessly on the court, rarely had the typical freshman “happy feet” and shot with confidence, stepping into his jumpers and following through as—more times than not—they connected with the bottom of the net.
But maybe more impressive was Mayo’s combination of quickness and control while driving to the basket. It didn’t have as much power as a Johnson-Odom bulldozer-and-spin move, but Mayo’s drives were calculated, well-timed and more often than not good decisions that led to positive results.
His early-season success from beyond the arc as a freshman—he shot 14-of-40 (35 percent) before conference play began—made him a legitimate threat, and that gave him plenty of options when he received the ball on the wing.
So when Big East season rolled around, Mayo made a concerted effort to use his own scouting report to get to the basket. Mayo made a respectable 30.1 percent (16-of-53) of his 3-pointers, but it was around the rim that he really flourished, making better than 56 percent (26-of-46) of his layups, floaters and dunks. That ranked fifth on the team, similar to Trent Lockett’s 56 percent mark last season.
Here’s a look at his freshman shot chart below (left). Notice the left wing and right corner, his two hottest locations. He made 6-of-17 (35.3 percent) shots from both areas, but the giant cluster of shots at the rim was what made him such a lethal threat. Mayo was not just a streaky shooter; he was a scorer.
There seems to be two schools of thought on Mayo’s sophomore season: 1) He never found his touch as a jump shooter after missing the first 10 games of the season or, 2) He was never a true scoring threat as a freshman, a player whose expectations were overblown thanks to his impressive non-conference stretch (the YouTube theory).
Whichever you believe, consider this: Mayo really was no worse as a jump shooter as a sophomore. In Big East games, Mayo was 16-of-56 from beyond the arc and 3-of-14 as a mid-range shooter, almost identical to his Big East/NCAA Tournament numbers as a freshman (Table 1).
Extrapolating Mayo’s sophomore minutes to match his freshman numbers still gives him 18-of-36 shots at the rim, far below his freshman numbers.
But that’s not everything. After all, an aggressive slasher who draws free throws won’t tally field goal attempts but may still be getting to the rim at the same, perhaps even a higher, rate. But in this instance free throws help the cause.
As a freshman Mayo went to the line 50 times in conference play+tournament time, and 38 of those attempts came off drives–12 came from jump-shot fouls or of the non-shooting variety. As a sophomore, Only 14 of Mayo’s 38 attempts came off the drive; 24 were non-shooting or off jump shots (Table 2 below). It’s purely coincidence, too, but Mayo has made 82.7 percent of his attempts off drives, and just 66.7 percent otherwise.
Marquette’s 3-point shooting was historically bad during Mayo’s sophomore year, so it’s not surprising he attempted more treys as a sophomore in almost 200 fewer minutes than he did as a freshman. But his game wasn’t just to be a David Cubillan-like shooter, one whose lone goal was to play around the perimeter and nothing else.
Marquette needed Mayo to do what he does best, attacking the rim. For one reason or another it didn’t happen, and that’s one area he must improve on in a larger role as a junior. With Blue headed to the NBA draft and only freshman Jajuan Johnson with him on the depth chart, it’s finally his time to shine, not disappear, at the rim.