A Fight Between Friends (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday November 13, 2007 10:32AM; Updated: Thursday November 15, 2007 8:30AM
If one player gets his way, the slogan of the upcoming season will be Love and Basketball. If the other gets his, he'll happily turn every arena into the Mayo Clinic. So when Love and Mayo met again last summer -- in a pickup game at UCLA's Student Activities Center with a group that included NBA stars Kevin Garnett, Baron Davis and Sam Cassell -- the anticipation in the air was as palpable as their pregame handshake-hug. "O.K., we're ready now," Love told him. "Let's go to work."
Ovinton J'Anthony Mayo was 11 years old when he started playing chess at Billy Scott's barbershop, a neighborhood gathering spot in Huntington, W. Va. The game fascinated him almost as much as the one that would start earning him national attention (and his first picture in SI) as a seventh-grader in 2002. Still does, too. "I try to make basketball like a chess game," says Mayo, a 6' 5", 205-pound combo guard. "If there's one mistake, one bad move, you want to expose it -- on the defensive end, too. It's about knowing what's going on three moves ahead of your opponents."
In terms of scoring, Mayo could play a role for USC that's similar to the one Durant, the first freshman to win player of the year, filled with Texas. The Trojans have one of the top recruiting classes, but the roster is painfully young overall -- coach Tim Floyd lost his top three scorers from last season -- and Mayo's 32-point outburst in the 96-81 upset loss to Mercer last Saturday may become the norm. Mayo doesn't possess Durant's Plastic Man length or off-the-charts hoops sense, but unlike Durant, a forward who sometimes struggled to receive the ball in the Longhorns' offense, Mayo should find it easier to latch onto the rock as a lead guard.
And once he does, Mayo slashes like a bishop, jukes like a knight and covers the court with the majesty of a queen. "I think he can play [point guard or shooting guard] in the NBA," says Floyd, who adds that none of the first-round picks he coached on the Chicago Bulls (including Elton Brand, Jamal Crawford and Eddy Curry) made a better first impression on him than Mayo did in practice. "O.J. can post, he can beat you off the dribble, he can play out of the screen-and-roll with poise," says Floyd. "He can make a perimeter jump shot, he has a midrange game, and he passes the ball well. And he can really defend."
The biggest question is whether Mayo will shoot USC out of games. At the McDonald's All-American game in Louisville in March, Mayo went 4 for 17, clanging the potential game-winner in the final seconds. But Mayo says he has enough confidence to keep firing, a lesson his idol, Kobe Bryant, reinforced last summer during the final moments of a deadlocked pickup game in L.A. Mayo had made three straight shots, but he passed up the deciding jumper, feeding an open shooter instead. Mayo's teammate missed; Bryant's team won. Afterward, Bryant pulled Mayo aside and offered some advice: "When you've got it going like that, take the shot!"
"What if he's open?" replied Mayo.
"It's different if you're throwing it to a player you feel can make that shot," said Bryant. "But throwing it to him just because he's open doesn't give the team the best shot of winning."
Mayo nodded. "It kind of made sense," he says. Translation: You're crazy if you think I'm passing in crunch time this season.