O.J. Mayo case another sad chapter on a shady part of the game (cont.)
As a journalist covering college basketball, I'll admit to having been enticed by the entertainment the minimum-age rule provided. In fact, I was more excited for an NCAA tournament showdown between Mayo and Kansas State's Michael Beasley than one between four-year players such as North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and Louisville's David Padgett. And far more parties than just Guillory profited from Mayo's time in college; similar to what Guillory said of the prep tournament he put on in '05, it was good for everybody.
USC saw attendance spike for games at the Galen Center, and Floyd would admit during the NCAA tournament: "I think a lot of that has been because of the interest of O.J. Mayo." The school sold Mayo's jerseys for $75 a pop. Sports Illustrated ran a regional college basketball preview cover with Mayo facing off against UCLA's Kevin Love, advertising a budding L.A. rivalry. SLAM magazine had Mayo on its cover before the season started, as did the Sporting News. ESPN and ABC and and Fox Sports Net and CBS made money televising Mayo's games. The NCAA's cash-cow tournament got higher TV ratings due to the presence of young stars such as Mayo, Beasley, Love and Derrick Rose. The quality of the product on the floor, with so many talented 18-year-olds forced into a year of collegiate servitude, was undoubtedly better.
And yet, when one takes off the basketball blinders and looks back at the recent Freshman Era, it's hard not to feel guilty about promoting the age limit as a positive thing, about trumpeting these stars as real collegians. Let players on the take jump straight to the NBA, if only so colleges don't have to deal with the Guillorys of the underworld and the rest of us don't have to endure the charade of labeling characters like Mayo "student-athletes." Would there still be kids taking money at the college level if the NBA age limit is lifted? Undoubtedly. But there would be less of them -- and that would be a positive development for those of us who would like to believe there's still some good left in college basketball.
Mayo, if you recall, did get in minor trouble with the NCAA once during his freshman season, for accepting some high-priced tickets to a Lakers-Nuggets game from his longtime "friend," Carmelo Anthony. 'Melo voluntarily went to Syracuse in 2002-03, and became the name synonymous with one-and-done, jumping to the NBA after leading the Orange to a national title as a freshman. He, coincidentally, is also a high-profile client of BDA.
Should we really believe that 'Melo didn't have his own Guillory somewhere, or that his allegiance to his agent wasn't secured in a similar manner? It's become accepted fact that to have a fighting chance at representation, agencies need to "invest" in elite recruits, through runners, well before the kids ever declare for the draft. As agent David Falk said in a recent interview, he had requested an introduction with one of the '08 draft's top prospects and been told, "You are three years and $500,000 short."
BDA also happens to represent the three one-and-done freshmen who had the biggest impact on the 2007 NCAA tournament -- Ohio State's Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook. In their case there was no Guillory. Conley's father, Mike Sr., simply became one of the company's registered agents and now represents the whole trio, all of whom were selected in the first round in '07, earning them $19.1 million combined in guaranteed contracts over the next three years.
Papa Conley, who had not been an agent prior to representing the Baby Buckeyes, will earn BDA a nice cut of that take. It may be unfair to focus strictly on BDA, as it is not the first, nor will it be the last agency to funnel cash to a future Lottery Pick. But it is the latest one to get caught. It may not be fair to focus strictly on Mayo, as he is not the first, nor will he be the last, college player to have an illicitly obtained 42-inch flat-screen TV in his dorm room. But he is the latest player to get caught. If 'Melo is the positive face of one-and-done, Mayo has become the negative. No denial of wrongdoing can change that. The evidence presented by Johnson is simply too strong.
Mayo, in explaining why he wanted to come to USC rather than a traditional powerhouse, told Floyd that he wanted to be a pioneer, someone who left his own legacy. Now that he's gone to the pros, what mark did he leave? The 21-12 record, the 20.7-points-per-game, the first-round exit from the NCAA tournament; none of that will resonate much in the annals of college basketball. O.J.'s legacy, in the end, is something entirely different. In brazen fashion, he reminded us of a sad truth of the NBA age-limit era: That amateurism, for prospects of his caliber, has become a joke.