Growing Up Grizz

On this season’s Germantown High School basketball team, blossoming hoop dreams collided with NBA accomplishment. The team featured seven seniors, two of whom had some extra celebrity connected to their last names.

Austin Hollins, son of Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins, and Todd Mayo, brother of starting guard O.J. Mayo, both finished out their high school careers with the Red Devils in the first step of what they both hope will be basketball careers as fruitful as those of their NBA relatives.

“That’s the big dream,” Austin says of his basketball, “to play in the NBA.”

While both Mayo and Hollins have taken inspiration from their exposure to basketball at the highest level, neither plays to impress anyone else, with each player striving to make their own mark on the game.

“When I’m out there I’m not playing for [my dad],” Austin said. “I’m out there to be with my team and do the best I can to win games.”

The strong desire for individual recognition is certainly nothing new in any father-son or brotherly relationship, but Austin and Todd’s continuing individual motivation comes from a focus on individuality seen in both families.

“I’ve told all my kids that if they’re playing sports for me to watch them play then they should quit,” Austin’s father Lionel said. “If this is your dream, you have to live it. You can’t try to live it for me because you’re not going to put in the same kind of work that you need to and you’re not going to have the passion that you need to be successful.”

Not to say either player hides their connections. Teammates often ask Austin what play they should run, because he’s the ‘coach’. Sometimes members of the team refer to Todd and another Germantown player as ‘brothers’ because of the player’s resemblance to O.J. Mayo. Everyone knows about it, but no one on the team stops to
think much about it. To them, this is just a big coincidence. The real story is on the basketball court.

And both players have excelled there. All season the gyms have been packed with fans, scouts, coaches, and, on occasion, a certain NBA coach or star player. The result has been a Division I scholarship to Minnesota for Austin, and a multitude of Division-I scholarship offers (Missouri, Southern Miss, West Virginia and Tennessee to name a few) for Todd. Germantown Head Coach Newton Mealer estimated that at least 20 D-I coaches have attended each of the school’s open gyms, and that during the season he would get between 35 and 40 calls per week regarding this year’s team.

In any Disney sports movie, the attention brought by Austin and Todd would result in an overly emotional mutiny from the rest, but not so at Germantown, where the team is a family.

“Guys don’t sit around here and get jealous,” Todd said. “Any guy who might notice that me or Austin will have a chance to play in Division-I also realizes that if they work hard, they can get there too. And now with all the coaches and everyone here, everyone on the team can get noticed.”

While Austin benefitted from his family’s commitment to staying in Memphis, even when Coach Hollins job situation was uncertain, Todd had a tough social hill to climb at GHS. He had moved to Memphis in 2008, relocating from West Virginia with his brother and the family after O.J. was drafted by the Grizzlies. He spent his first season at Houston High School, but transferred after being dissatisfied with the level of commitment he saw on that team. He made the switch to Germantown, but now found himself thrust into a team with six seniors who had been playing together for years. Now the vocal, rally-the-troops locker room leader had to make his way as the new guy–again.

“It was kind of difficult,” Todd said. “I just had to come in and stay humble, work hard, be the first one in the gym and the last one in the gym. Try to talk on the court and off the court to start friendships. It was kind of difficult but I got through it.”

And those friendships have kept the team close. When not practicing, the team hangs out at the Hollins house behind the school–shooting pool, watching movies, and playing video games. It’s easy to see why the kids hang out there, the house is within eyesight of the gym, and sometimes the kids can glean some advice from an NBA coach.

Lionel loves talking basketball with the kids, but Coach Hollins doesn’t limit all his advice to the court. When one young player expressed his dismay concerning having to cut his pony tail in order to play basketball in high school, father Hollins came on display.

“Well what’s important?” Lionel asked the boy. “You having that ponytail or you playing basketball? Your basketball is going to take you a lot further than that ponytail is, and at some point you’re going to have to cut that ponytail to get a job. So what’s your priority? What’s your love? What’s your passion? It’s about making good decisions.”

O.J. takes a different approach. He occasionally reminds his brother to stay focused on school and basketball, but usually prefers to lead by example.

“I try to make things easier for him, let him have the opportunities and advantages that come with me being a professional ball player and use those to make him better as a ball player and as a person,” O.J. said. “I just try to make sure he’s taken care of.”

While the fatherly advice and brotherly support are there to be had, the focus usually stays on the game, and that’s where both Austin and Todd get the most from their famous relatives. Germantown High School coach Newton Mealer describes Austin as a ‘student of the game,’ a player with immense knowledge and work ethic, and Todd as the most disciplined gym rat on the team.

“No one works the way Austin and Todd do, especially when the coach is not around,” Mealer said. “They are almost always the first ones in and out of the gym.”

Austin gleans his work ethic from his father, the hard-nosed NBA head coach, and Todd learned from summers working out with his brother and other NBA players in Chicago.

“I’m seeing Dwayne Wade, I mean he’s right here working in this court, and then I see O.J. and Bill Walker and certain other NBA players and they’re working on this court,” Todd said. “Then I’m thinking, ‘These guys are going hard, and this is where I want to be.’ When I see them work I see what it takes to there.”

What it takes is apparently 50 sit-ups, 50 pushups, 200 rope skips, and time with the weight belt just before every game. That comes in addition to the normal workout. The first time Mealer saw Todd come onto the floor for a game already drenched in sweat from his “warm-up,” he said, “Son you know we’re about to play right?”

“That’s okay Coach,” Todd replied. “I need to go into every game like I’ve already played a half.”

It is that kind of insane commitment that has Austin and Todd where they are. While both players are considered D-I talent, neither is considered a lock for the NBA right now. It’s not too far from where Grizzlies Center Marc Gasol was when spending his last two years at Lausanne while his brother Pau starred for Memphis. No one thought he would be an NBA caliber player then, and look at him now.

“You can never settle,” Marc said of playing at that age. “Don’t ever let anybody know what you can and cannot do and what you can or cannot be, because you never know.”

While the younger Mayo and Hollins benefit from their family connections as Gasol did, they know where they want to be and use that as just part of what keeps them motivated.

For Austin, it came from a lifetime of advice from a father who pushes him, as he pushes his players, to make decisions and commit to them. For Todd, it comes from years of watching his brother consistently turn down socializing in favor of spending time in the gym, and then seeing that commitment take him out of West Virginia, to USC and then to the NBA.

Now for both players, the NBA is a dream for the future, but at this moment it’s time for college.

By Doug Gillon, Photo by Chase Gustafson.

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