Sitting with his hands folded, arms loose and resting on his thighs, Todd Mayo quietly fielded questions about the health of his surgically repaired knee, expectations for this Marquette University basketball team, and what he felt his role might be in his junior campaign.
The 22-year-old guard was mostly expressionless fielding such standard preseason queries, revealing a small smile here and there.
The conversation then turned to the arrival of his older brother, O.J., who signed a three-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks in the offseason.
Initially, the younger Mayo kept his answers short and patterned.
"It’s always good to have family in your backyard," he said first. "College moves so fast and you’re not really around your family as much so for them to be right down the road is always good."
During his first appearance in front of Milwaukee media, O.J. was similarly concise and matter-of-course.
"At the end of the day I want him to be focused on what he has to do, to be held accountable for what he needs to do and on the same thing for me," the elder Mayo said. "Because sometimes when I came here it caused a distraction for him or vice versa. At the end of the day it was the best decision for me, and it just happened to be here."
Both men acknowledged O.J.’s decision to join the Bucks as a free agent will make things easy on their mother, Alisha, since she will be able to see them play in person rather easily.
It seemed as if both men wanted to downplay their reunion in Milwaukee, keep it surface-level, but as the conversation with Todd continued at the Al McGuire Center, he cracked the door a bit further.
"It’s always good to have family in the same city as you because when you want to get away or have someone to talk to, you can always go right down the road," he said. "I think it would help any player. You’re just working and just moving and just becoming a man and not being around your family and not talking to your family so for them to be in that city and then to grow as a man and also be around your family, it definitely helps."
He speaks from experience.
O.J. recalled the difficult phone conversation he had with Todd when his younger brother had to tell him he was ruled academically ineligible for the start of last season. Todd has also been suspended from the team on two other occasions, once in-season and once over an offseason.
And that didn’t include the bruises to the ego on the court as he tried to find a steady place in coach Buzz Williams’ lineup.
"That was pretty hard on him," O.J. said. "He was pretty much in tears the last week just because of where he was from his first year, getting some playing time and coming in and having some issues academically and it was his first major punch in the face as a college student.
"Then, getting back up and fighting to get some kind of time, then toward the end of season coach just seeing it a different way in order for the team to be successful I think was another punch in the face he didn’t see coming. It kind of woke him up and he said man, I need to handle my business and I need to stay around here and get some work in and focus on my books and just being 100 percent a college athlete."
O.J. was always available to his brother over the phone, or by text, but there was still a disconnect – who knew what city he was in that day, or what his duties were as an NBA professional.
And during Todd’s tenure at Marquette to this point, Alisha has been based in Memphis, and there is a sister in Ohio as well as other siblings that haven’t been able to see their older brothers often.
As Todd continued speaking, he elaborated how much it would mean to him to have that live support in Milwaukee.
"Just for O.J. to come to Milwaukee I knew that it was going to bring all of us together," Todd said. "That’s one thing I said to him – ‘You came to Milwaukee for a reason.’"
That reason, at least to Todd, was a powerful one.
"He came to Milwaukee for a reason and that’s to be together because our family’s been spread out for about five, six years," he said. "I thought it was pretty good."
O.J. remembered that during his one year at the University of Southern California, it was difficult to thousands of miles from family, and that living 15 minutes from his brother will help him.
"Anytime you know you’ve got someone you can call to get off campus, or you just want to get out of your dorm room, play video games or talk about something other than basketball land school, it’s always a plus when you’re a student-athlete," O.J. said. "As long as you know you’ve got that support in the back of your mind, there’s already a comfort level. He can come over whenever, chill, kick his feet up and get from under the supervision feeling when you’re a student-athlete, which is all good."
Todd is still maturing, but he’s been in the public eye ever since he first stepped on the court as O.J.’s little brother, then as he furnished his own reputation as an elite high school player and now as a key member of a Top 25 college program.
That, coupled with seeing how his brother has moved from southern California to Tennessee to Texas over the past six years, has allowed Todd to develop an appreciation for what this period of time means. Especially since he only has two years left at Marquette, at most.
"Yeah," Todd admitted. "That’s the one thing I have realized. I just want to appreciate this moment, appreciate my junior year, appreciate when my senior year approaches me. And just appreciate the overall, just my family here. O.J. has a three-year deal.
"It couldn’t get better than this."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.