MILWAUKEE — Todd Mayo sat in his coach’s office about to make one of the toughest phone calls of his life.
Instead of getting ready to head to the Carrier Classic with the rest of his team, Mayo had to tell his mother he was academically ineligible. After leaving the office that day, his head started spinning with questions. How was he going to make it without basketball?
Emotions boiled over when the sophomore guard turned the television on and watched his teammates warm up for a game on an aircraft carrier.
Mayo could have taken the easy way out and packed up and left Marquette. But then it hit him: He knew if he ever wanted to get back to his team, it was time to change his habits.
Every morning at 5 a.m., Mayo and a friend would venture to Hope Christian High School in Milwaukee where he began to put himself through the same boot camp workout that Marquette coach Buzz Williams runs at the beginning of each season. When class was done at 3 p.m., Mayo was back in the gym for more workouts before heading to study hall at 6 p.m.
When others doubted him, Mayo fought daily to work his way back.
“My back was against the wall,” Mayo said. “(I knew) if I didn’t do what I had to do, then I was never going to step on the court in D-1 basketball again.”
All of the hard work came to fruition Saturday when Mayo returned to the floor for the Golden Eagles. His shot was flat and his legs weren’t quite there, but he had made it through the toughest stretch of his life.
It all began in the summer, when Mayo was sent home by Williams to “better understand the value of a Marquette scholarship.” Reinstated in time for the season, things began to get better. Mayo went through preseason practice and had no idea he was about to receive the news of his ineligibility when Williams called him into his office following a practice three days before the team was scheduled to leave to face Ohio State in Charleston, S.C.
Marquette guard Junior Cadougan has been through academic troubles himself. Sensing a teammate in need, he reached out.
“I tell Todd all the time that you just have to put your head into the books,” Cadougan said. “Sometimes you want to watch TV or play video games, but just read a book. That will help build your vocabulary. Work on your papers, just study. Be in study hall more hours than you think you need to be in there, get help from people. He showed a sign of maturity that he could do that.”
Williams knew Monday morning that Mayo was going to be eligible. He phoned Mayo’s mom informing her that though grades wouldn’t be posted until 5 p.m. Tuesday, her son had put himself in the position to regain eligibility.
Mayo could have played in Marquette’s upset loss to UW-Green Bay on Wednesday, but Williams made the decision to delay his return until Saturday. And though he knows Mayo would have helped the team, he wanted to personally meet with his family. Williams felt that Mayo’s current standing in school could be better explained face to face. Not wanting to have a distraction on the day of the game, the meeting was held Thursday morning.
“I believe that I was blessed with this job not because of my skill set, I believe I was blessed with this job because along the way to this job I tried to treat people right, number one, and along the way, no matter the circumstance, I always told the truth,” Williams said.
“Is that the right thing to do as a coach? No. Is that the right thing to do as a parent? … Yes.”
At media day in October, Mayo acknowledged that he needed to establish a relationship with his head coach. Being away from the team has prevented that from occurring. But the process also created a more mature person.
“It’s still the same,” Mayo said. “We get along. He tells me how he feels, I tell him what’s on my mind sometimes. But as far as that, it’s the same. I have to regain his trust, regain my teammates’ trust, and the fans’ (trust).”
Saturday wasn’t the culmination of Mayo’s journey back to where he was as a freshman, but just another hurdle along the way.