Not surprisingly, OJ Mayo today declared that he will be leaving USC after one year, hiring an agent, and entering the NBA Draft. He is projected to be among the top few selections chosen. After what seems like an endless biding of time with his ultimate destiny of the NBA, this ends the amateur career of one of the most ballyhooed schoolboy players of the last decade.
Mayo in HS at Rose Hill Christian Academy
How long have we been talking about OJ Mayo? A simple google search reveals that news reports were already discussing the seventh-grade phenom in the winter of 2001. On a personal tip, we watched him play live as an eighth grader and started out more impressed with Bill Walker than Mayo at the time (until the 4th quarter, that is, when Mayo took over the game, erasing a 14 point deficit by himself to win against a superb opponent). We followed his every move, from tiny Rose Hill Christian Academy in Ashland, KY, to North Indian Hills HS in Cincinnati, and back to his hometown of Huntington, WV, again. We read the countless articles in SLAM magazine telling us that he was the Next Lebron, sifted through the message board character assassinations, and often wondered aloud if his buddy Bill Walker’s tribulations and lack of a true father figure would somehow end up destroying Mayo before he ever made it out of high school.
Turns out he did just fine. He made it through HS without much of a hiccup (there was that simple possession charge during his senior year), and although the recruitment of Mayo was effectively a non-starter because of his pre-emptive strategy to call Tim Floyd out of the blue and commit to USC, there were lingering questions about his ability to be a good teammate and handle authority.
We’ve Been Reading About Mayo For Years
Mayo’s only season at USC was marked with some basketball ups and downs, but there was nary a peep about his being a bad teammate or issues relating to his character. He averaged 21/5/3 assts in just under 37 mpg, which are eye-popping numbers for any player regardless of class. One of the initial concerns was whether Mayo would turn out to be a human cannon, chucking shots at every opportunity without consideration for the team concept. While his assist numbers weren’t great, Mayo shot good percentages from the field (44% FG, 41% 3FG, 80% FT) and we watched at least a dozen USC games this year and never once thought he was trying to do too much.
The ups and downs derive from USC’s team success. In a normal year for a program like USC, 21-12 overall, 11-7 in the hypercompetitive Pac-10, a win over UCLA, close losses to both Kansas and Memphis, and an NCAA bid amount to a great season. But in a year when USC brought in one of the top five freshmen in America (and easily the most hyped freshman), you have to wonder if Tim Floyd privately thought he could get more from this team. As an example of what the public thought, USC was a trendy pick to move several rounds through the Tournament prior to the first day’s games, but they crashed and burned 80-67 to Kansas St. and another super frosh, Michael Beasley (Mayo was 6-16, scoring 20/5/2 assts) in the first round. Should USC have done more that that with an exceptional talent like OJ Mayo running the show?
Mayo is by no means alone among his fellow freshmen in this regard. Eric Gordon’s Indiana team collapsed with the removal of Kelvin Sampson and were easily dismissed in the first round by Arkansas. The aforementioned Michael Beasley at K-State and Kyle Singler at Duke were both defeated convincingly in the second round. Only Kevin Love at UCLA and Derrick Rose at Memphis, both of whom were surrounded by oodles of talent, were able to take their teams deep into March Madness as freshman leaders.
It’s a Tough Call Whether Mayo Helped USC or Vice Versa
So now it’s on to the NBA for Mayo, where his size, strength and transcendant hooping abilities should provide a natural fit at the point guard slot for an LA Clippers or Seattle (er, Oklahoma City) over the next ten years. He’s not the next Lebron (and he was never going to be), but his game is reminiscent of a Jason (Jay) Williams before his injury – perhaps not quite as speedy, but a little longer and equally as effortless in his motions. Given the rocky life and media crush that Mayo has experienced throughout his amateur career, we truly wish him the best as he moves on to the professional ranks.