O.J. Mayo embraces reserve role for Memphis Grizzlies
O.J. Mayo had talked about being an NBA Hall of Famer going back to his days at USC, so his reaction was predictable last season when he was told he would be coming off the bench.
Bench players and the Hall of Fame typically don’t go together.
“I was definitely mad at first,” Mayo said Sunday before he and the Memphis Grizzlies played the Lakers at Staples Center.
The shooting guard seemed headed in the wrong direction, going from runner-up to Derrick Rose in rookie-of-the-year voting and averaging 18 points during his first two NBA seasons to second-tier status.
Mayo swallowed hard and did his best to accept the situation. He averaged a career-low 11.3 points but was featured on the highlight reel during the Grizzlies’ upset of the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs by making a key three-pointer in Game 3.
Now he’s in the early portion of his first full season as a reserve, something he’s embraced after having a lockout-extended off-season to digest the move.
“It made the transition a lot easier going from last year to this year, understanding that that was what was needed for this team,” Mayo said. “Coming off the bench, it just makes our team a lot stronger, depth-wise.”
Mayo is off to a slow start, averaging 9.9 points and 24.8 minutes per game while making only 20% of his three-point shots. He scored 15 points on seven-for-15 shooting in 26 minutes Sunday against the Lakers, including a pull-up jumper that brought the Grizzlies to within four points early in the fourth quarter.
But Mayo later had a shot blocked by Matt Barnes and the Lakers went on to a 90-82 victory.
Given the tilt-a-whirl of turmoil Mayo endured last season, a handful of forgettable games probably don’t register on the worry meter.
Not long after Mayo moved to the bench, his father was charged with attempted murder for allegedly hitting a police officer with his car and dragging him several feet.
Mayo then got into a mile-high fight with teammate Tony Allen over a card game on a charter flight in January, a month that also brought a 10-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy. Mayo blamed the positive drug test on an energy drink.
As if that wasn’t enough, Mayo nearly switched teams when Memphis agreed to trade him to the Indiana Pacers for Josh McRoberts and a first-round draft pick. But the deal was submitted minutes after the trade deadline had expired, voiding it.
“That’s the way it goes, ups and downs, throughout a relationship or a career,” Mayo said. “Not too many guys can say their career was always on the up. You just endure it and continue to work hard, continue to try to be a better player.
“I’ve just learned that you can’t take this game for granted. You have to stay professional and stay focused and stay prepared to produce and continue to work hard. Nothing’s given.”
Mayo said he’s trying to do more than score off the bench, setting up his teammates while playing tenacious defense. He has plenty of incentive to turn in a complete effort, playing in the final year of a contract that will pay him $5.6 million this season.
Four years after he left USC following one season that resulted in sanctions related to his receiving improper benefits from an agent’s runner, Mayo isn’t trying to distance himself from Los Angeles.
He spent the lockout in Southern California, working out at Loyola Marymount and Mira Costa High in Manhattan Beach. Before North Carolina played Michigan State in November in Coronado on the deck of the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, Mayo’s agent received a call inviting his client to the game.
Mayo was at Los Angeles International Airport when he learned of the invitation, getting ready to board a flight to watch his younger brother, Todd, play for Marquette.
Mayo had a new itinerary, headed to see a game attended by President Obama and other dignitaries.
“I had to do all the Secret Service business,” Mayo said. “They get your name and information, but it definitely was a memorable moment. I was like a kid.
“It was cool, all the cadets and Marines and Navy men.”
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