SALEM, Va. — Michael Mayer turned in one of the gutsiest performances of his career Saturday, leading the Williams Ephs with 26 points in 75-73 loss to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the final of the NCAA Division III national championship.
Mayer’s tip-in bucket with a heart-stopping 4.9 seconds remaining in the game gave Williams a 73-72 lead, but the Warhawks’ Quardell Young took the ensuing inbounds pass and tore down the court for a hard-won layup.
He was fouled by Mayer, and a free throw put Wisconsin-Whitewater over the top for a 75-73 win. For a brief few moments, it appeared as Mayer was going to be the game’s hero and the weekend’s Most Outstanding Player.
It was not to be.
“Duncan (Robinson) took hard it hard to hole, and I saw it was coming off,” said a disappointed Mayer after the game. “I knew I had to try to get a rebound. It was lucky I tipped it in. I looked up, and there was 4.5 seconds left. They just took it. The guy’s really good. He made a really good shot.”
In the stands, his family agonized with every shot. The Mayers, as it turns out, are very serious about two things – academics and basketball.
His father, Fritz, is a professor of public policy, political science and environment at Duke, and director of the school’s program on global policy and governance. Mary Kay Delaney, Michael’s mother, is an associate professor of education at nearby Meredith College in Raleigh, and head of the department.
An older brother, Paul, went to Villanova and now works in politics in Washington D.C. Michael’s twin brother, David, is an aspiring documentary filmmaker at Duke and a former Blue Devils walk-on. And Michael, a math major, presented a senior paper on the Gamma Function on March 17, the day after Williams’ win against Mary Washington in the Division III sectionals.
The Mayers are, to be sure, an intelligent family and a basketball family, too. Fritz played on a very good club team at Harvard, and then hooked up with a team in England to play there after graduation. It must be some kind of sight to see him and his three sons going at it in their pickup games.
“We had some pretty fierce backyard basketball games, which often ended in little scraps,” Fritz said. “We played a lot of two-on-two ball when I could still keep up with them.”
Twins have a special connection that only they can fully explain. It’s like they’re a part of each other, and when Michael headed to Williams while David stayed behind at Duke, it took a while for both of them to adjust.
“One day, you’re together every day of your life, and the next day, you’re not,” David said.
“It was tough for me,” Michael added. “We’re super-close. It was the first time in our life we really weren’t together. But I think it was good for both of us. We learned to branch out a little more. Initially, it was hard because I’d been with him for 18 years. It was weird being away from him.”
How difficult was the decision not to join Michael at Williams?
“I didn’t get into Williams, so that made the decision easier,” David said with an easy smile. “I wanted to go somewhere else, and I wanted to play somewhere else. I had an opportunity at Duke.”
Even when David walked onto the Blue Devils squad as a freshman during the 2010-11 season — he never saw any game action — something still didn’t seem quite right. Something was missing, and that was Michael, who was nearly 700 miles away in Williamstown, Mass., home of the Williams Ephs.
“It was intense. It was really intense,” David said. “Physically, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, as far as the shape I had to be in. And I think it was difficult playing on a team my brother wasn’t on. I didn’t expect that as much as what happened.”
Asked how difficult it was to see Michael go to school so far away from home, Mary Kay was the first to chime in. She said that they all missed him, of course, also added quickly that they were very happy for him to get an opportunity to play regularly at a DIII school with such a long and storied heritage.
“It was just a great fit for Michael,” Fritz added. “It’s just exactly the right kind of setting for him. His brother really missed him, for sure. I can tell you it’s a long way from Durham, N.C. to make all those trips to Williamstown, but we’ve made many.
“In this day and age, you can stay in touch pretty well. They text. They talk a lot. I know Mike felt a little homesick at first. We’re a pretty close family. The brothers are really very close and root for each other. They always have.”