The O.J. Mayo story
USC's freshman phenom took long road to California
Posted: Wednesday November 21, 2007 3:28PM; Updated: Wednesday November 21, 2007 3:28PM
(The Bag is back for its second decade -- god, we're feeling old -- and you know what to do. Send in your probing questions, quirky comments and any other subversive suggestions, crackpot theories or parlor games dealing with the world of college basketball. For the love of Alan Ogg and Aminu Timberlake, we're even back to taking Where Are They Now nominations. So get to it!)
To kick things off, though, we're taking only one question this week, and it happens to be our own:
What do you make of USC's O.J. Mayo?
For starters, too many people wrote off Mayo and USC after their season-opening loss to Mercer. Tim Floyd's Trojans have a ways to go, but the return of Daniel Hackett (who had a triple-double in USC's rebound win at South Carolina) means Mayo and Taj Gibson won't be the only weapons at the Galen Center. The young Trojans will get clipped some more in the next month (Memphis and Kansas are on the schedule), but they'll win their share of games by season's end.
Anyway, we spent two hours talking to Mayo for our story on O.J. and UCLA's Kevin Love in Sports Illustrated's college basketball preview issue, and both players are extremely good interviews. In fact, after the negative rep he got in high school I'd say that Mayo is his own best advertisement, a thoughtful guy who was willing to talk at length about basketball, his own missteps and any number of topics, including:
His playing style. Some pundits have already tried to contrast Mayo's game to Love's in black-vs.-white terms. But Mayo isn't having any of it. "At the end of the day, as long as you perfect the game by winning then any style can work, he says. Magic Johnson didn't play the style that Larry Bird did, and Michael Jordan sure didn't play the style that Magic or Bird played."
His love of chess. He's no Garry Kasparov, but Mayo likes to compare his basketball moves to the think-three-moves-ahead strategy he employs on the chessboard. "In the barber shop you start playing checkers, and eventually you want to learn how to play chess," he says. "The pieces look a little more interesting. You're doing more things. I'm pretty good at it."
His journalism seminar. Mayo has been covered in the national media since the seventh grade, but now he's seeing things from the other side, taking Journalism 381, a weekly three-hour seminar. "It's interesting to be able to ask questions and try to get at what's going on," says Mayo, who could be a useful guest-speaker himself. "I got into a fight in my 10th-grade year, and it was on ESPN," he says. "It was a mistake, and you learn from it. Starting from the seventh grade, everything's been magnified like that. It's kind of like you have no childhood."
His post-hoops future. Mayo wants to follow in Magic Johnson's entrepreneurial footsteps someday in his hometown of Huntington, W.Va. "I'd like to redo housing," Mayo says. "That alone kind of makes you either want to be successful or it can just sour the mind to where you're like, 'This is all we've got, what else is it going to be?' That's why I'm here studying business-management and real-estate investment, so hopefully I can have the opportunity to rebuild my community back home."
His views on race. Mayo has taken two courses on race in America since he arrived on the USC campus last summer. "I did a paper on why is race so uncomfortable to discuss." he says. "Is it because you don't want to bring up bad history in America? You want to be conscious of whatever you say about that because it's a serious point. You want to feel like our society's over that, and just because it isn't that doesn't mean I don't want to push for that to happen one day."