'My confidence has allowed me to play at that level'
‘Anyone’s Game’ star Shemar Rathan-Mayes talks about family, pressure, and out-working the competition
If there's one thing you should know about being a point guard, according to Shemar Rathan-Mayes, it's this: "Anything that happens is gonna fall back on you.
"Coach gets mad because somebody else makes a mistake on the court?" he adds. "It's never [the other player's] fault. It's always the point guard's fault. Because it's the point guard's job to get everybody in their spots and make sure the table is always set when you're getting everybody into their plays."
Originally from Scarborough, Ont., Rathan-Mayes is now averaging almost 30 minutes a game in his freshman season for the NCAA's Youngstown State Penguins. He had his last year of high school basketball with the Orangeville Prep Bears — Canada's top high school basketball program — documented in the CBC docuseries Anyone's Game. Throughout the series, Rathan-Mayes and Orangeville coach Tony McIntyre are shown to have a relationship that is occasionally heated, but ultimately close. If the two occasionally fight like family, that makes sense, because according to Rathan-Mayes, they basically are.
"I started playing for Coach Tony when I was maybe 11 years old," he says. "He coached my older brother, so it's always been good, it's always been family. When I got the opportunity to play at Orangeville Prep I knew I was gonna be in good hands, because he's gonna always have my best interest at heart… outside the game of basketball, he always cared for me as a person. I felt like I was his son. I call him pops to this day… After my first [NCAA] game, outside of my mom, he was the first one to text me and say that I played great."
At 5'11", Rathan-Mayes was the smallest player on Orangeville's roster last season, and often the smallest player on the court, period. He says he's been able to not just compete, but excel as an average-sized man among giants by doing two things: out-working them and out-studying them.
"You just gotta work two times harder," he says. "Just staying prepared off the court by watching a lot of film, studying guys, what they like to do, what they don't like to do, that helps me get that edge. Mentally, I'm the same size as them. My confidence has allowed me to play at that level, with big-time prospects and big-time athletes."
Rathan-Mayes comes from a basketball family. His father Tharon Mayes, and his older brother, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, both played for Florida State in the NCAA before going on to have careers in the NBA and overseas. He says that having professionals in the family has helped him both on and off the court.
"[Xavier] showed me the way to succeed," he says. "Even when he's had failures or made mistakes, he's been there to show me so I don't go in and make those same mistakes. That's just in terms of being a man. From a purely basketball standpoint, he's taught me a lot. We play the same position. I pick apart his game. We work out and he shows me the things I gotta do, especially being undersized, to affect the game."
One big difference between the two brothers, however, is their path to the NCAA. Xavier took the more traditional path for Canadian basketball prospects, heading to the U.S. while still in high school. When he was starting high school, there wasn't a program like Orangeville Prep, with a history of sending players to major college basketball programs and on to the NBA from Canada. Rathan-Mayes says that having programs like Orangeville Prep, as well as other, similar programs springing up across Ontario and Quebec, is a game-changer for player development in Canada.
"Canadian players go over to the States because they want that platform to be seen by Division-I coaches," he says. "At Orangeville Prep, every practice we have, there's division one coaches. There's always gonna be a coach there who will help you find the best [college] fit. Orangeville Prep is crucial for Canadian basketball."
Watch Anyone's Game, starting Jan. 15 at 8:30 p.m.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.