On June 26, 2008, Ovinton J'Anthony Mayo was thrust into the NBA, a man's realm, as a mere twenty-year-old boy. Most twenty-year-olds assume a sense of innocence, but Mayo never had that chance. Often times in today's world, kids that possess extraordinary athletic ability are forced to grow up rather quickly. Mayo was no exception to that rule. There has never been a more hyped Memphis Grizzly than the man known simply as Juice to many adoring fans. Fan expectations for Mayo were through the roof when he arrived on Beale Street. Anytime a franchise drafts, or more accurately acquires in a draft day trade, a guy that had been heralded as the next LeBron James by some NBA scouts at one point, expectations are bound to be beyond lofty.
To fully understand how heralded Mayo was as a prospect, one must venture back to his days as a middle schooler. Mayo was in the national spotlight before he even had the chance to roam the halls of a high school. In Kentucky, grade schoolers are allowed to play for their high school team. Mayo averaged 23.1 PPG for his high school varsity team as a seventh grader. In eighth grade, he upped the ante after being named first-team all-state.
Amidst these preternatural stats and accolades for a middle schooler, Mayo began drawing attention from the likes of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine. Before beginning his high school career, he moved away from his home in Ashland, Kentucky to live with his club coach to further his basketball career, as if he needed help in that respect. That's right. He moved away from home at the age of fifteen.
Mayo was heralded by one NBA scout as the "JV version of LeBron [James]" while in middle school. In retrospect, comparing Mayo to LeBron was setting him up for failure. Nobody can meet LeBron-like expectations except LeBron himself. Also, we now know with the benefit of hindsight that it is unfair for any kid to ever be labeled the next LeBron because James' skills simply cannot be replicated. James is, for all intents and purposes, a generational talent, and an unfair burden was placed upon Mayo when he was crowned the next LBJ.
In Mayo's one year of college at the University of Southern California, he averaged 20.7 PPG, 3.3 APG, and 4.5 RPG. While these stats weren't just otherworldly for a college freshmen (see Kevin Durant), his freshmen year did little to curb fans' expectations when he declared for the NBA draft. While there is a chance Mayo could have gone number one in the 2007 NBA Draft had the NBA's new collective bargaining agreement not declared that a player had to spend a year removed from high school before entering the league, that obviously didn't happen. In the 2008 NBA Draft, the Grizzlies finally received the backcourt scorer the franchise had coveted for years.
From the moment Mayo placed the number thirty-two midnight blue Grizzlies jersey over his head and onto his chiseled body, he was expected to immediately turn around the Grizzlies' recent misfortunes. When writers, fans, and even NBA scouts have proclaimed somebody to be the next 'King James' at such a young age, why shouldn't Grizzlies fans have expected that from him?
As we all know, Mayo never became the driving force in the changing fortunes of the franchise. During his four, formative NBA years spent in a Grizzlies jersey, Mayo was relegated to the role of glorified sixth man. This was not how things were supposed to go for him. Fans quickly became disenchanted with Mayo when he was unable to force his way into the starting lineup, declaring him a bust. Declaring a player that has averaged 15.2 PPG, 3.1 APG, and 3.4 RPG in five seasons in the league a bust seems like overkill, even given Mayo's hype when he entered the league. Those stats put him on par to finish his career with better numbers, at least in the points per game department, than most players that have ever stepped foot on an NBA court.
To add to Mayo's underwhelming on-court performance during his Grizzlies tenure, he also had some trouble off the court, most notably when he was involved in a full-out donnybrook with Tony Allen over a card game on a plane back to Memphis. Additionally, he was suspended ten games in 2011 for failing an NBA-mandated drug test. Mayo's talents were arguably never fully appreciated in Memphis, which showed when the Grizzlies front office attempted to trade him time and again. Also note that Mayo was never a favorite of then Head Coach Lionel Hollins. He never could seem to catch a break in Memphis or accept his role as sixth man, and the decision to part ways after his rookie contract expired became an easier one than it probably should have been for all parties involved.
When re-living Mayo's dispiriting stint as a Grizzly that didn't even last past his rookie contract, just remember one thing: Mayo didn't ask for all the acclaim, and he certainly never asked to be compared to one of the best basketball players ever as a middle schooler. Let Mayo's story serve as a cautionary tale for the next time the Grizzlies land a big-time prospect. Buy into the hype at your own peril.
By all accounts, Mayo was a disappointment in Memphis, both to a fan base that was starved for success, and probably himself. However, Mayo is only twenty-five years old. The book has not been written on him yet, and I for one, can't wait to watch the rest of his story unfold, even though it won't happen in a Grizzlies uniform.