Marquette: Todd Mayo and his ceaseless obstacles

Todd Mayo will leave the Marquette program to pursue a professional career.

Todd Mayo will leave the Marquette program to pursue a professional career.

December 5, 2011

Freshman Todd Mayo enters the media scrum in the basement of the Al McGuire Center with a quiet confidence about himself. Just 48 hours earlier the shooting guard had scored 14 points in a road win over No. 9 Wisconsin, showing off the moxie of an accomplished senior while ending both the Badgers’ 23-game home winning streak as well as the questions about whether head coach Buzz Williams had found a legitimate steal in the 2011 class. He’s now averaging 9.6 points on 47 percent shooting through eight games (all Marquette W’s) while playing behind the best shooting guard in the conference for one of the best teams in the country.

The 20-year-old freshman, donning a dark grey hooded sweatshirt, is soft-spoken but certainly not shy. He speaks with conviction, sure of his answers about how Marquette wanted to attack the Wisconsin defense by finishing plays. He relays Williams’ message to the team that its next opponent, Washington, is going to play fast. And he gushes over Darius Johnson-Odom’s leadership — “I wish you guys could see (him) in practice.”

During that 3-minute Q+A Mayo is asked about his own play, too. The only unranked player in Marquette’s 2011 recruiting class clearly has “it,” and through one month has made his teammates – who admittedly were in awe of his performance earlier that summer – look smart. Mayo acknowledges he’s heard the talk, that he’s performing well and is carving out a role on a team now ranked No. 11 in the country. But there’s more.

“Good is not acceptable for me,” he proclaims. “I want to be great.”

March 17, 2012

Buzz Williams wears his heart on his sleeve. The former Marquette head coach is never shy about expressing his emotions, routinely finding himself genuinely choked up in press conferences when speaking about his family, his own path, Buzz’s Bunch or his players’ resolve. Fifteen-minute press conferences generally consist of only three or four questions, with Williams expounding on each question with a bigger-picture facet of life pertaining to everything except basketball.

But only once in his 2,137 days on the job did someone else’s words publicly bring him to tears.

Shortly after Marquette’s nine-point win over Murray State in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, freshman Todd Mayo sits beside his head coach and answers questions. The talented freshman has just scored eight points and played admirable defense to help send Marquette to a second consecutive Sweet 16.

“We pray all the time for God to stand on us,” Mayo says. “He definitely did today, and we just tried to stay together.”

The moment Mayo utters that sentence Williams brings his hands to his face, emotions overcoming him, and begins wiping away fresh tears from his eyes. Mayo had seen his jump shot disappear during the second half of the regular season, he had carried the “OJ’s brother” label everywhere he went and a year ago wasn’t sure if any Division I school was willing to take a chance on him. But here he was, and Williams couldn’t be more proud.

“When you see kids grow and mature, especially when all the perspective of who they are is not really who they are,” Williams says as his voice cracks, “I think that’s special.”

November 7, 2012

In three days Marquette will board the U.S.S. Yorktown in South Carolina and square off against an Ohio State team with championship aspirations in the Carrier Classic. The special trip marks the beginning of a season for the Golden Eagles without Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, but there’s optimism a strong returning supporting cast and influx of freshman talent will help Marquette compete for yet another NCAA Tournament bid.

Todd Mayo won’t be aboard the ship.

Mayo always overcame obstacles, but they never stopped coming.

Mayo always overcame obstacles, but they never stopped coming.

Following a season in which he played more minutes per game (21.1) than any freshman to date under Williams, Mayo’s offseason includes being sent home by Williams in the summer to better understand the value of his scholarship, and a suspension handed down by the NCAA for failing to meet minimum academic requirements.

Buzz Williams has a soft spot for kids who have taken the difficult journey to where they are now – he’s one of them himself. On his journey — paying his own way to attend a tiny junior college in Texas — there were no nationally-televised games, there were no Jordan sponsorships and there certainly weren’t any scholarships. Mayo fit the bill of a journeyman fighting through the struggles while finding his own way; he had attended four different schools in three states prior to his arrival in Milwaukee, and with academics in question there were doubts he’d ever suit up at a Division I school. But there aren’t any shortcuts in Williams’ world, and Mayo had attempted to take them.

After missing 10 games, Mayo returns as Marquette squeaks out a four-point win over LSU. In his first comments since the academic suspension, the sophomore guard is remorseful for the situation he put himself in and vows to improve, vows to become a more loyal teammate, student and person.

“It definitely was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, period,” he tells the media following the game. “If I didn’t do what I needed to do then I was never going to step on the court in (Division I) basketball again.”

December 7, 2013

Marquette is back in the Kohl Center, preparing to take on the No. 8 Badgers, who have won their first nine games to start the year and eventually will earn a trip to the Final Four in March. The Golden Eagles have looked unimpressive during a 5-3 start, including a 35-point outing at home in a loss to Ohio State in November.

It’s as tough an environment as Marquette will face all year, and on this day they’ll be without Todd Mayo. The junior is late to practice earlier in the week and is given a one-game suspension, his fourth in three seasons, by Williams. Marquette loses that game, 70-64, and later in the month Mayo tells the Journal-Sentinel’s Michael Hunt how disappointed he was to miss a game in an environment he had dominated two years earlier.

“I just felt like I let a lot of people down. It was disappointing,” he said. “I knew the media and the fans would tear me apart.”

But Mayo finds himself. Though it didn’t translate to victories during Marquette’s 17-15 season, Mayo finishes the year averaging 15.7 points over his final 10 games. He leads a comeback in a win over Butler, plays almost-hero in a double-overtime loss at Providence and scores 20 or more points in the final three games.

July 31, 2014

Todd Mayo wanted to be great.

When news broke Wednesday afternoon that he had decided to leave the Marquette program and pursue a professional career, it ended a three-year journey of not fulfilling that desire.

One conversation with him and it became apparent he was one of the smartest basketball players on the court. One viewing of his pregame routine, with a jump-shot form that would make Ray Allen look twice, and it became apparent he had the skills to succeed. One postgame press conference from Buzz Williams in Louisville, tearing up at the progress his much-criticized freshman had made, and it became apparent Mayo had the inner strength to succeed.

But Mayo’s self-induced setbacks after receiving more than a handful of chances from Williams to rectify his situation made it impossible for him to achieve his ultimate goal. For every step forward – maturing as a freshman, bouncing back academically, being the go-to scorer as a junior – there was always an obstacle awaiting him at the next turn. Mayo always found a way to overcome those obstacles in his path; the problem was they never stopped popping up.

The fact that Marquette’s press release included that Mayo left the university in “good academic standing” is a testament to the work he put in off the court, understanding the value of his scholarship, lining up his priorities and subsequently succeeding on the basketball court late in his junior season. It’s a fact that Mayo overcame a great deal.

But there were simply too many hurdles for the talented shooting guard to get over during his time at Marquette.

Todd Mayo was always good. He just didn’t allow himself to be great.

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  1. Todd Mayo Leaves Checkered Past at Marquette For NBA D-League | NOW Sports Network - August 28, 2014

    […] season from the academic suspension, but declared that he would be better after his return (via, “It definitely was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, period,” he […]

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