On November 15, the Marquette Golden Eagles took the floor in front an exuberant crowd for their first game of the season against Tennessee Martin. In Todd Mayo's case, this would have been his fourth and final home opener as a Golden Eagle. The 6-foot-3 guard from West Virginia would also be making his season debut that weekend, but he would not be donning the same blue and gold he had worn for the past three years.
Instead Mayo found himself nearly a thousand miles away in Oklahoma City preparing for his professional debut with the newly formed Westchester Knicks of the NBA Development League.
The following day Mayo scored 14 points in a loss the Oklahoma City Blue, officially making him a professional basketball player. However, for the young guard from West Virginia this was not always the plan.
The 2013-14 season was a disappointing one for the Marquette program. Not only did they fail to make the NCAA Tournament, but they also saw their coach Buzz Williams leave the program for Virginia Tech. Marquette still had a reason to be optimistic though. Just a year before they had made a run to the Elite Eight, and their new coach, Steve Wojciechowski a former Duke assistant was only looking to build on that success. He had scored a Top 100 recruit in Sandy Cohen and added two highly regarded players to the program in Luke Fischer and Matt Carlino. Mayo, who averaged 11 points the previous season, appeared to be a huge part of the blueprint.
However, it was not meant to be.
In late July, Mayo announced that he would be forego his final year of eligibility in order to pursue a professional career. Reflecting back on that decision now, Mayo saw it as the best opportunity to make his NBA dream come to fruition. "I wanted to learn more about the game. I am not saying that Marquette can't teach me, but there are areas that I needed to get better. I played in the Elite Eight and the Sweet 16, but I just felt that the opportunity to earn a college degree will always be there. I was just really looking at my dream and seeing how can prove my dream and get to that."
It was a bit of a surprise when Mayo made his decision in the middle of summer, but anyone who followed Mayo's career at Marquette knows that the ideal and the actual have not always been the same for him. Coming out of Notre Dame Preparatory in Massachusetts, it was no secret that the brother of O.J. Mayo had talent. He had offers from many high level division I programs and chose to attend Marquette, a Big East power. Unfortunately for Mayo, the troubles began not long after he arrived on campus.
After his freshman campaign, Coach Williams sent the talented guard back home to think about some of the decisions he made that hurt the team. Although Mayo's off the court issues did not stop after his freshman season. At the beginning of his sophomore season Mayo struggled to juggle both academics and athletics. He was declared academically ineligible and was suspended for the first 10 games of the season. Mayo would then have to out to sit out another game after showing up late to a practice. In his junior season, Mayo displayed the same immaturity and once again was tardy to practice. The Golden Eagles would miss Mayo's presence as they would go on to suffer a loss to in-state rival, Wisconsin.
When people look back at his time in college, they will wonder if Mayo's off the court antics and immaturity inhibited him from fulfilling his full potential. Mayo knows that as he gets closer to the draft that NBA teams will have questions about his maturity.
However, he believes that his stint in the Development League will give him time to focus on basketball. "I struggled with school. School was where my downfall was at. You had to be very straightforward in school to play with Buzz, but that's what great coaches do. I felt like I could have grew a bit more at Marquette and could have left a better mark, but you live and you learn."
Mayo is not the first player to play in the D-League after leaving college. Charlotte Hornets guard P.J. Hairston and former Washington Wizard Glen Rice Jr. both chose this path after running into some trouble in college. Like Rice and Hairston, Mayo is hoping to show NBA scouts that he has grown both as a player and as a person since his college days. This will not be an easy task. For any player, the transition from college to the pros can be difficult and Mayo acknowledges that it has not always been easy. "I think the hardest part is having to focus each and everyday. It's not like college travel. Somedays we might play at night and now we have to get up at 4 in the morning and travel the next day." However, he credits the veterans on the team and the Knick's coaching staff for helping ease his transition. They are leading by action and they are also being vocal.
"I go off action. Whenever I see something they are going I pay attention to their body language because if I am ever in that situation, I will know how to react."
At the NBA level, Mayo sees himself as someone who can play both guard positions. Being O.J. Mayo's brother, people will always compare Todd's game to O.J.'s. However, Todd Mayo see himself more in the mold of role players such as Norris Cole or a Lou Williams. By rookie standards, Mayo is currently having a nice year in the D-league , but at 23 he is considered to be a little old by NBA draft standards. Therefore, he will have to work that much harder to prove to scouts that he is worth a pick.
"I believe that you can better each and everyday. Throughout my career I'm going to always get better. My main focus is being a pro each and everyday. I think that is something that some people lack."
It will not be easy task, but with his improved attitude and his potential on the court, Mayo just might be able to prove to scouts that he deserves a spot in the NBA.