internal an American basketball participant’s journey from incarceration to Iraq

Flipping burgers and bagging fries inner the grease-stained kitchen of a Georgia quick-meals shack, DeMario Mayfield feared his basketball profession was over.

NBA scouts who once flocked to his practices and video games now ignored him. brokers who as soon as blew up his telephone not lower back his calls. Even the school coaches who as soon as dangled scholarship presents now treated him like he turned into radioactive.

This was 5 years ago, and Mayfield's lifestyles had bottomed out. The then-22-12 months-historic former college of Georgia and UNC Charlotte basketball participant become serving a ten ½-month sentence in an Athens diversion core after a may additionally 2013 arrest on expenses of conspiring to commit armed robbery.

every morning, Mayfield would take the bus to the cook dinner Out, where he served up quickly meals for 12 hou rs a day as a part of a piece-free up program. each evening, he'd bus returned to a locked-down facility that housed him and a couple of dozen different nonviolent offenders.

"That became by using a ways the darkest time of my lifestyles," Mayfield referred to. "I let so many americans down. I went from everybody offering me the realm to a nobody, making minimal wage, working at a burger shack. It ripped me aside. That become the hardest aspect for me to swallow."

Mayfield eventually did find a way to revive his sputtering basketball profession, however required summoning the courage to go to a war-ravaged nation few americans are bold adequate to consult with. He agreed to play for a Baghdad-based membership in Iraq's state-run league, drawn through the determined desire to benefit a foothold in skilled basketball so he might give for the wife and younger son who had supported him through his grimmest days.

Mayfield became so at home in Baghdad that the nation's basketball federation advised him to observe for twin citizenship and play for the Iraqi national crew last 12 months. The high-flying combo take care of donned Iraqi colors in foreign competitors for the first time remaining fall, little question a jarring sight for the Georgia native's pals back domestic.

For Mayfield, representing Iraq turned into a company resolution. It provided an extra supply of revenue and a platform to showcase his skills towards superior competitors than what he faced within the Iraqi league. If Mayfield performed well against the properly avid gamers in Asia and the core East, he hoped he might finally persuade a excessive-level European team to take an opportunity on him regardless of his checkered historical past.

"It turned into an opportunity to open some eyes on a bigger stage," Mayfield stated. "It's likely bizarre to a couple individuals, but outdoor opinions truly don't count number to me all that a good deal. I'm simply concentrated on my pro fession and attempting to put myself and my family unit in the relevant position."

before Mayfield's basketball profession took him to the other facet of the realm, it begun with him making an attempt to dwell as near domestic as possible. Two months into his junior 12 months of excessive school, the strong, athletic combo shelter committed to in-state Georgia, which is lower than an hour's power from his childhood home.

"We considered DeMario as a big, athletic combo shield who had the skill to make an influence for us taking part in on and off the ball," former Georgia teach Dennis Felton stated. "The youngster we bought to know become a robust scholar and a good looking grownup with a very easy-going character and a very good heart. He became somebody we wouldn't have expected would run into the off-the-court concerns that he later did."

Mayfield's career in Athens lasted only 1 season partially as a result of he in no way had the opportunity to play for the teaching workforce that recruited him. Georgia fired Felton midway in the course of the 2008-09 season after an 0-5 start to SEC play dropped his standard list to eighty four-91 and led to school directors to lose faith that he may revive its struggling basketball application.

When Mayfield only received off the bench in six of 18 SEC games right here season under new coach Mark Fox, he decided to transfer somewhere with more accessible playing time and a team of workers that believed in him. Mayfield selected Charlotte mostly as a result of the presence of assistant Desmond Oliver, who had recruited him to Georgia as a member of Felton's personnel.

Rejuvenated by the fresh start, Mayfield without delay blossomed into an have an impact on player at Charlotte. He confirmed so lots promise attacking the rim, attending to the foul line and finishing via contact that he became a regular on SportsCenter's proper plays and NBA scouts begun displaying up at Charlotte's practices simply to watch him.

"We concept he was an NBA participant," Oliver referred to. "He had large shoulders, he had placed on 15, 20 kilos of muscle and he changed into jumping out of the gymnasium. Had he had that in high school, he'd were recr uited by using the total SEC and ACC."

Mayfield's faculty legacy could have been reviving a Charlotte program that had run aground over the old decade, but he lacked the maturity to tackle the adulation that incorporates basketball success in a hoops-mad state. 3 times in 11 months he served suspensions for crew suggestions violations, penalties he now admits were end result of the too tons partying and too a great deal marijuana.

"i used to be the man at Charlotte, and it became simply too an awful lot for me at the time," Mayfield pointed out. "I could not deal with it. I couldn't stability basketball, college and my social life. It grew to be overwhelming for me. My social life begun taking up every little thing."

Time after time, Mayfield turned into warned he needed to quit smoking marijuana. Time after time, he did not heed that counsel. He didn't seem to draw close that he become placing his basketball profession in jeopardy as a result of he become nonetheless showing as much as practices and meetings on time, nevertheless performing well in video games and still on tempo to earn his degree forward of time table.

When Mayfield failed yet a dif ferent drug look at various midway through a promising 2012-13 season, Charlotte's body of workers may offer protection to him now not. school officers at last ran out of persistence and dismissed Mayfield even if the 49ers had been off to a 16-four beginning and he became averaging a good 14.3 features and 4.7 rebounds in league play.

"i love the child because he definitely is a fine adult, but the truth turned into he changed into a grown man making grown-man choices and those selections weren't decent for him or our applicati on," Oliver noted. "It changed into unhappy, nonetheless it wasn't the primary time he dealt with the marijuana problem. It's challenging to fight for kids who get caught up in medication."

DeMario Mayfield starred at Charlotte before a sequence of failed drug tests led the school to disregard him.


within the aftermath of being pushed aside at Charlotte, Mayfield plunged into melancholy.

He felt he had blown his slim shot on the NBA and he couldn't envision making an attempt to jumpstart his stalled basketball career through transferring to a 3rd faculty. He become eager to aid help his longtime girlfriend and their young son, but he didn't have a backup plan now that his basketball aspirations seemed to have long past bust.

"even if I labored full time, I had my degree and i had a place to live, he desired to supply for us, to be the head of the family," said Jasmine Mayfield, then DeMario's female friend and now his spouse. "He had truly given up on basketball, he turned into making an attempt to suppose of alternative routes to make cash and he begun placing with people he shouldn't have been placing with."

What happened subsequent turned into the worst mistake of Mayfield's lifestyles, one his friends a nd family nonetheless describe as entirely out of personality for the form-hearted, gregarious basketball participant. In may 2013, police arrested Mayfield and former Georgia soccer player Ricardo Crawford in an Athens local neatly-referred to as a housebreaking goal. The pair had masks, latex gloves and weapons in their vehicle when police discovered them.

Having police method his motor vehicle with guns drawn turned into the wakeup call Mayfield vital to turn his lifestyles around. He had grown up with out his father in his lifestyles and he knew he had just about put his new child son in the equal position.

Mayfield set a aim to use his penal complex sentence to kick his marijuana habit and figure out what to do with the rest of his existence. in the beginning, he instructed Jasmine that he would go returned to college, however when she challenged him to make a plan, he didn't have a solution for what his center of attention can be or what he turned into going to do together with his graduate degree. unsatisfied with that reply, Jasmine asked Mayfield if he turned into definitely able to abandon his basketball desires just yet.

"He told me he nonetheless desired to play, however I could inform he wasn't certain it was viable," Jasmine said. "I informed him, 'it will possibly nevertheless turn up, but you deserve to pull your self out of the dust.'"

Mayfield could have hung up his high tops for first rate had been it no longer for a pair of Division II coaches unafraid to offer second options to proficient avid gamers in need of a fresh birth. Angelo State's Chris Beard (now the top train at Texas Tech) and Cinco Boone (Angelo State's existing head instruct) had been pragmatic adequate to bear in mind they would by no means land a player as achieved as Mayfield without any baggage, so that they determined to examine whether or not they might safely take a chance on him.

After talking radically with Jasmine, Mayfield's mother and a few of his former coaches, Beard and Boone decided it turned into time to have a face-to-face chat with the player himself. They left San Angelo, Texas, and drove sixteen hours across 5 states as a way to meet with Mayfield throughout his lunch ruin at the burger shack.

Having shed his apron however now not the rest of his work attire, Mayfield joined Beard and Boone at a lower back table and spoke openly and remorsefully about his past transgressions. at the conclusion of their conversation, Mayfield instructed Beard and Boone, "I just want a further opportunity. If I get another chance, i will not permit you to down."

"there are so many children that feel they deserve a chance, but DeMario become nearly begging for an additional probability," Boone pointed out. He appeared us within the eye at that quick-food restauran t and he changed into open and humble. greater than anything, I consider that's why we had a superb intestine feeling about him."

When Mayfield comprehensive serving his sentence in 2014, he, Jasmine and their 2-yr-ancient son headed straight to Angelo State in quest of a fresh delivery. Mayfield knew this was an opportunity most avid gamers in his shoes do not have acquired, so he was determined to make the best of it.

in addition to averaging 15.eight points and eight.0 rebounds per game for a crew that received 28 video games, Mayfield also earned a grasp's diploma in curriculum and instruction and labored to ingratiate himself to his new neighborhood. He stayed around after video games to discuss with kids and even introduced all of his teammates and coaches to the Halloween birthday party at his son's daycare.

"To at the present time, our institution president nonetheless texts from side to side with DeMario," Boone noted. "He's a distinct guy. He in fact is. I tell americans all of the time we're going to teach together sooner or later."

lifestyles in Iraq may also be lonely for American avid gamers, but Mayfield discovered to make the best of it and located points of the culture that he loved. (photo by the use of DeMario Mayfield)

MoreFORGING A existence IN IRAQ

Mayfiel d hoped that a hindrance-free yr at Angelo State would support him latch on distant places with a professional club, however there wasn't lots pastime in a participant less than twelve months faraway from incarceration. The handiest offers Mayfield bought have been from third- and fourth-division European groups who typically paid lower than $1,000 per month.

That might were Mayfield's premiere alternative had he not received a tip from an in depth friend and former Georgia teammate. Six-foot-eleven Albert Jackson spent the 2014-15 season playing for Baghdad-primarily based Al Nift and advised Mayfield that the membership become in search of an American take care of as a complement to him for the upcoming 12 months.

The suggestion of dwelling in Baghdad for six months terrified Mayfield, but the cash become effectively too good for him to show down. Al Nift offered to pay him $sixty four,000 for the 2015-sixteen season, a salary that in comparison favorably to what American imports acquire taking part in in different a ways-flung leagues in the center East and past.

"I had zero other alternatives," Mayfield talked about. "i was going one hundred percent, but in the lower back of my intellect, it changed into still like, 'Yikes, I'm going to Iraq.'

"On my technique to the airport, i used to be Googling everything about Iraq, the meals, the safety, everyth ing. The best element I might locate on the internet became about bombs exploding. It was like, 'There was a bomb here nowadays. the day before today, there turned into a vehicle bomb and 10 individuals died.' It felt like i used to be going to a warfare zone."

a part of the rationale Mayfield had a better adventure in Iraq than many other americans avid gamers became that his club was sponsored by the oil trade and had the funds to supply him facilities and protection. He lived in a significant Baghdad hotel every of his three seasons with Al Nift, the lodge's chef would make him whatever thing meal he desired and the crew offered a driver to help him navigate the Iraqi capital's site visitors-tangled up streets.

It additionally helped that Mayfield didn't simply hole up in front of Netflix 20 hours per day like many American gamers in Iraq. He made an effort to gain knowledge of to speak in Arabic, he made pals during the city and he'd accept invites to visit his teamm ates at their buildings for an occasional home-cooked meal.

"both i was going to take a seat around and complain about being in Iraq, or i used to be going to try to take pleasure in it," Mayfield mentioned. "I'd fairly are trying to delight in it. It's nevertheless difficult for me every now and then, but i can get out within the city and mingle and that i can speak satisfactory Arabic to get what I need or get round."

What Mayfield realized from his conversations with Iraqi individuals become that his belief that they would be hostile towards americans turned into lifeless incorrect. lots of the Iraqis he encountered had an idealized view of the usa from Hollywood movies and feared insurgent corporations and radical Islamic terrorists just as lots as he did.

"each person I met, they welcomed me wit h open hands," Mayfield observed. "every little thing I'd considered about Iraq earlier than I got here became that they hate the West, but they love every thing about america."

For Mayfield, the toughest part of his three seasons in Iraq changed into being away from his spouse and son for half of each and every 12 months. He'd text or FaceTime continually to guarantee Jasmine that he changed into all right, however there have been some anxious moments for her anytime rolling blackouts in Baghdad compelled Mayfield offline.

"If it changed into longer than an hour, i might start to get concerned," Jasmine observed. "I'd consistently search the 'internet to are attempting to be sure there wasn't a bombing or the rest. He didn't have too a good deal problem over there, but it's nevertheless Iraq at the conclusion of the day."

Mayfield's resolution to observe for dual citizenship and play for the Iraqi national group paid off precisely as he hoped. now not best did he earn a six-determine salary this previous yr, he also left little doubt he turned into in a position to enjoying at a higher degree than the Iraqi league.

Mayfield averaged 19.5 elements, 8.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists this past year all through the primary circular of qualifying for the FIBA 2019 World Cup. Iraq won just two of six games and did not enhance, however Mayfield did spearhead a rare upset of neig hboring Iran.

mostly because of his performance on that stage, Mayfield got extra pastime than ever earlier than from European membership groups this summer. He signed for the upcoming basketball season with Sigal Prishtina, a Kosovo-primarily based membership that participates in the Champions League and the Euro Cup, both most prestigious competitions in Europe besides the EuroLeague.

The possibility to play at that stage is a major achievement for a guy who five years ago became taking fast meals orders and puzzling over career percentages outdoor of basketball. Mayfield doesn't intend to play one more season in the Iraqi league, however he would love the probability to characterize the Iraqi countrywide team once more quickly.

"I'm perpetually grateful for the probability with the country wide group," he pointed out. "whenever they name me once again, I'll play."

DeMario Mayfield's success with the Iraqi national group helped him earn a contract present from a ecu membership for the 2018-19 season. (photograph credit score: FIBA)


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Jeff Eisenberg is a basketball writer for Yahoo sport s. Have a tip? e mail him at or follow him on Twitter!


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