Posted: Monday July 10, 2006 3:40PM; Updated: Wednesday July 26, 2006 2:06PM
On the home front, Mayo is supposed to be under the full-time care of his summer coach Dwaine Barnes, a longtime family friend whom Mayo has often called "my grandfather." Barnes applied to be Mayo's legal guardian before Mayo transferred to North College Hill three years ago (Mayo's mother lives in West Virginia). Yet Mayo confirmed to me last week that Barnes has actually been living for some time in West Virginia, not in Ohio.
Think about that for a moment. Here's an 18-year-old athletic prodigy, a national celebrity who is constantly scrutinized and blandished with temptations, and he lives by himself in the middle of Ohio? With so little guidance from trustworthy adults, it's no wonder Mayo is making increasingly bad decisions. He was suspended three times by his high school this past year alone, the last one coming in April following an altercation with a female student.
Despite those suspensions, Mayo said last week that he expected to be back at North College Hill for his senior season. That, however, was before his best friend and high school teammate Bill Walker, a 6-6 high-riser who had a fabulous week at ABCD, was ruled on Monday by the Ohio High School Athletic Association to have exhausted his eligibility. It's doubtful Walker would return to NCH if he can't play ball, and it's inconceivable that Mayo would go back there without Walker.
As if Walker's ruling didn't complicate things enough, Mayo has also had to deal with a rift in his camp pitting Barnes and his mother against Rodney Guillory, an event promoter based in L.A. who has become Mayo's close friend and mentor. (Guillory also has a dodgy past. Six years ago, his relationship with Fresno State's Tito Maddox and USC's Jeff Trepagnier led to suspensions for both players after the NCAA determined Guillory had been working as a runner for an agent.) As one person close to the situation said, "It's like the Hatfields and the McCoys." For now, Mayo has let his mother know he trusts Guillory and he will decide on his own where to play in college.
The distance between Mayo and Barnes was made public in April when Mayo left Barnes' AAU team to play for a different program at a tournament in Houston. When I asked Mayo if he definitely planned on playing with Barnes' team this summer, he replied, "It's definite to me. I guess I'll have to talk it over with my mom." The building estrangement is bad news for Kansas State coach Bob Huggins, since Barnes is the driving force behind the chatter that Mayo was destined to play at K-State. Huggins has been instrumental in lining up local support for Barnes' summer basketball program. Multiple sources have also told me Barnes has received money from North College Hill's games. I'm guessing the NCAA will start sniffing down that money trail at some point.
At this moment, it's hard to tell whether Mayo is honestly confused about what he wants to do or whether he's intentionally throwing outsiders off the scent. "I don't trust a word he says," a recruiting expert told me. Yet, I have seen Mayo interact in enough situations to understand why so many people come away impressed with his character. "He's a great listener, he never talks back, and he's always trying to get better," said former Wright State coach Paul Biancardi, who coached Mayo's team at ABCD last week.
Another camp observer who has dealt frequently with Mayo echoes those sentiments. "He's one of the most mature kids at his age I've ever met," the person said. "He has a strong vision of what he wants to accomplish, and he's extremely driven and competitive. Even in that ridiculous [ABCD] all-star game, at the end there he was guarding as hard as he could and trying to win."
When he finally finished his postgame autograph session, I asked Mayo what was next on his agenda. "It looks like I've got to work on my jump shot," he said with a grin. "I'll go back to the lab when I get home."
That attitude bodes well for Mayo's basketball future, but as he left New Jersey it was hard to shake the disquieting feeling the USS O.J. was fast becoming a rudderless ship.