The road less traveled: Tiki Mayben's arrival at UMass not your typical journey
Nov. 9, 2006
AMHERST, Mass. - Tiki Mayben's basketball future was mapped out before his sophomore year of high school.
The Troy, N.Y., native, who had just been ranked the top freshman prospect in the nation by one recruiting service, decided he would take his considerable talents and follow in the footsteps of Gerry McNamara, Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Coleman as Syracuse University greats.
That was the plan at least. But four years have passed, and there have been more than a few bumps on the road to assured college basketball success. Though Mayben has strayed off course, he has still managed to land at a promising destination.
He'll just have to settle for following the likes of Marcus Camby, Lou Roe and Julius Erving, as the point guard will begin his first season at UMass tomorrow when the Minutemen host Dartmouth at 5 p.m.
Mayben knows that he is fortunate to have landed at a school with a basketball tradition as strong as UMass' and his focus is solely on what once again looks like a bright future. But with Mayben's history, leaving the past behind is easier said than done.
Mayben continued to excel on the court throughout his high school career, and on the AAU circuits, but off the court nothing went right. Mayben constantly found himself in trouble at school and struggling with grades. He was kicked off the Troy High team in both his sophomore and junior years, and each time he was allowed back the following season.
Mayben said he often ended up in trouble by circumstance and not for anything he actually did. Mayben's AAU coach Jim Hart, who speaks to his former player frequently, backed up that assertion.
"The perception of him is so much different than what the truth is," Hart said. "Some people hear his name and they've heard some problems and they might think he's actually done something. But if someone said, `What is it exactly that Tiki did,' you couldn't even explain it because there is no one incident he did. He's never gotten into trouble with the law."
Mayben says his high school days followed the same pattern: He'd get expelled from school after the season and finish the year at a center for students with behavioral issues. Then he'd get reinstated the next year and then get expelled again after the season.
"I never really finished any years of high school," he said. "I always finished at that same building or at the public library with a tutor. It was to the point where they'd let me back in school to play basketball, and then they'd kick me out (after the season)."
Mayben's issues with grades weren't due to a lack of intelligence, but a result of his regularly skipping classes and tests. Mayben said no one at Troy worried about him attending class as long as he was delivering on the court.
"I did what I wanted to do and nobody said anything about it," he said. "Nobody said anything about me going to school and leaving early and coming back for practice."
Troy athletic director Paul Reinisch, who took over after Mayben graduated, said the department has stiffened rules on athletes skipping classes, but admitted that none were in place while Mayben was at Troy.
"They didn't have a policy in place which penalized students for cutting a class," Reinisch said. "Each coach may have handled that differently, but now not only do we have a policy in place, but we enforce that policy with no exceptions."
Mayben's school troubles caught up with him at the end of his senior year. He had the necessary SAT scores, but his grade-point average did not meet NCAA eligibility requirements.
Two days before graduation, Mayben was told by the Syracuse coaching staff that he would need to attend prep school because the university didn't accept non-qualifiers.
"We told him that if he went to prep school and qualified that we would still take him," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I loved him. We recruited him for three years, but he didn't get his qualifying score so we couldn't do anything with him."
Mayben had no interest in going to prep school - he attended the Winchendon School after quitting the Troy team his junior year, only to return home a week later - and asked to be let out of his letter-of-intent.
"If I went to prep school I could have gone to whatever college I wanted," Mayben said. "But after everything I went through in high school it didn't mean that much to me to go back to high school for another year. Either I was going to be able to get in somewhere or I was going to give it up."
A face in the crowd
After Hart set up a meeting in Amherst between the two last summer, Ford and Mayben decided UMass was the right fit for both sides.
With Mayben paying his own way last year, there wasn't much risk involved for UMass. Ford knew plenty about the talent Mayben possessed on the court. His main concern was that Mayben would perform well enough in the classroom to become eligible.
"Last year, for a lot of reasons, I didn't track every move he made," said Ford, who is entering his second season in Amherst. "I wanted to see if he could do it. He developed some discipline and commitment."
For the first time in years Mayben's identity wasn't tied to basketball. He was just one of 20,000 students on campus.
"It made me grow up a lot," he said. "It turned me into a young man because I know what's at stake. If I don't handle my business now, me being here last year and paying my own way was for nothing."
A natural concern is that Mayben's grades could suffer now that he is eligible and back playing, but it's not something he or Ford expect to happen.
"I actually find it easier - play ball, do your work and go to sleep. There's no time for anything else," Mayben said. "Last year, I was doing my schoolwork and finding myself lost. I had so much time and I didn't know what to do."
Said Ford: "As of today, he's been superb. He's definitely headed in the right direction. It's been nothing but a good experience for me with Tiki."
Next stop: NBA?
Mayben will have ample opportunity to collect assists playing alongside a talented group with the potential to be the best UMass team in a decade.
Mayben will get the start in tomorrow's season opener at home against Dartmouth, without having to beat out incumbent point guard Chris Lowe, who will serve a one-game suspension for an offseason incident. Some freshmen would be nervous about stepping into the mix on an experienced team, but it's something the confident Mayben embraces.
"In basketball, your game speaks for itself. If you're balling, people around you are going to recognize that and they're going to follow you," Mayben said. "I love to get the crowd involved, and (I'm trying) to bring everybody back to the Mullins Center like the Camby days."
Mayben's primary focus is on returning UMass to the national scene, but it's not lost on him that if he plays a big role in that success, his lifelong goal of reaching the NBA could be realized.
"I'm here with the opportunity to tear the nation up real quick and get out of here in one year or two years," Mayben said. "(Making the NBA) is my main goal. I plan on getting my diploma, but I'm not going to lie - getting my diploma is second. An early exit is not too far from my mind because I have to do what I have to do to take care of my family."
While Mayben's focus is on his future, he knows questions about his past are going to arise until he gives people something else to talk about. His first opportunity to do that is on the Mullins Center hardwood tomorrow night, and he's ready to start the next chapter of his life.
"I'm ready to put (the past) behind me," he said. "I don't think about it. I'm Tiki Mayben and I'm the UMass point guard, and that's all I care about right now. I know I could be great, or I could be nothing. It's just a matter of what I want for myself.