Mayer stresses defense, looks ahead to NBA future

Matthew Mayer goes up for a layup against the University of Texas on Feb. 12 at the Ferrell Center. Brittany Tankersley | Photographer

By Michael Haag | Sports Writer

Senior forward Matthew Mayer has become a staple for the No. 4 Baylor men’s basketball program, and he has grown over the years into a national champion and potential NBA prospect.

Coming off a 2021 national title run, Mayer was in a key bench role, expected to inject energy into every game. Thrust into a starting role this year, the 6-foot-9-inch forward knew he had some things to work on to help not only his team, but also his future.

“I was considered a bad defender last year, but I was good at offense,” Mayer said. “[I was in the] second round on draft boards, and I was like, ‘If I get that defensive tag, one, that will help the team, and two, that’ll just boost my draft stock. That was the main goal, and I think I’m doing pretty well right now.”

Head coach Scott Drew has been there for his entire journey and said Mayer has shown much improvement.

“He’s a lot tougher, a lot stronger than he was,” Drew said. “His shot’s a lot more consistent. His mechanics are a lot better. Defensively, knows our system better, rebounds better, and his passing has really improved. He’s become more consistent with that. Matt’s somebody that each and every year, he’s become more consistent and bigger, better and stronger.”

Looking at film during Mayer’s freshman year, Drew didn’t recognize the forward anymore, showcasing how far Mayer has come.

“You watch film as you prepare for other games and you look back [to] his freshman year — I was watching Oregon, and I didn’t even recognize him out there,” Drew said. “Physicality goes in not only playing defense, but holding your position and being able to fight for rebounding. That means he’s put in the effort on and off the court in the weight room.”

For Mayer, the growth over his four years at Baylor has come in ways outside of personal performance.

“Coming out of high school, I was labeled as talented but not a winner,” Mayer said. “It just feels good to be able to prove to myself that I’m gritty and I can help my team win when I play a lot of minutes.”

Junior guard Adam Flagler hyped up Mayer’s defense, saying the best one-on-ones in practice are between Mayer and senior guard James Akinjo.

“Matt takes a lot of pride in shutting things down,” Flagler said. “He’s a really good defender.”

Those practices end up being intense, healthy competition for the teammates, as Akinjo likes to single Mayer out among others.

“We have a thing called ‘Brady,’ and [in the drill], you pass it to the mismatch,” Mayer said. “He calls ‘Brady’ on me, which doesn’t make any sense because I lock him up. I led the country in steal percentage last year. What do you not understand? I’m not a ‘Brady.’ He always does it on me, and then we just talk trash, but it’s good fun.”

Drew said he has also noticed the defensive improvements and intensity from Mayer over time.

“[He’s] practicing hard, making the right plays, defensively putting in the effort to get better,” Drew said. “It’s like parenting: As kids get older, you expect better behavior, performance, execution, maturity. I think Matt’s somebody that defensively, there’s no doubt he’s been a lot more solid and done a much better job.”