O.J. Mayo case another sad chapter on a shady part of the game
The first time the names O.J. Mayo and Rodney Guillory appeared together in a newspaper, in December 2005, the arrangement was innocent in comparison with the $200,000 agent-payment scandal that's now in the headlines. Mayo was then just an exploited high-school basketball phenom, who had come to Los Angeles from Cincinnati with his North College Hill team to play in the Rise or Fall Basketball Invitational. Guillory was an event promoter who had paid $16,000, plus expenses, to Mayo's school for the right to feature him -- and make money off of his appearance -- in the Reebok tourney. "I think this is good for everybody," Guillory told the Los Angeles Times at the time.
Guillory's name would keep popping up in Mayo stories -- next as an advisor who had ascended to the head of Mayo's inner circle; later as the man who, in the summer of 2006, walked into USC coach Tim Floyd's office unannounced and asked, "How would you like to have the best player in the country?" Mayo, as the story goes, called Floyd later that night and committed to the Trojans. The first sentence on the New York Times article that laid it all out was, "It sounds like a fairy tale."
Now, we are aware of a number of fairy tales involving Mayo, all of them greater fantasies than anything the Brothers Grimm collected: First, the notion that Mayo was ever an eligible basketball player at USC; next, that Guillory was ever merely a helpful, non-shady part of this ordeal; and finally, that the NCAA or its member schools were capable of preventing the NBA's minimum-age rule from making a mockery of the concept of collegiate amateurism.
Thanks to whistle-blower Louis Johnson, a former member of Mayo's inner circle, the basketball world is now aware that the Guillory-Mayo relationship was especially good to Guillory: Johnson alleged, in a thorough report by ESPN's Outside The Lines on Sunday, that Guillory served as a runner for BDA Sports agent Calvin Andrews, whom Mayo had agreed to use as his future rep back in the ninth grade. To protect that deal, Guillory allegedly received some $200,000 in monthly payments from BDA, as well as an Infinity SUV that had been purchased from a dealership belonging to ex-Trojan Ronnie Lott, who said he had a relationship with BDA Sports. Mayo, meanwhile, allegedly received up to $30,000 of this money while he was in high school and at USC -- and was well aware of the cash's source. As Johnson said, "O.J. knew that Rodney was getting money from BDA not only to take care of Rodney, but also to take care of O.J."
Both Mayo and the Trojans issued pathetic denial statements on Sunday. Sadly, Mayo is by now beyond the arm of the NCAA; he declared for the draft and signed with Andrews in April. USC, on the other hand, deserves to fry for this. A postseason ban, loss of scholarships, and a complete voiding of the 2007-08 season is in order. Even if no money was ever exchanged between the USC camp and Guillory -- and you have to at least wonder, if he was on the take from BDA, why not the Trojans as well? -- the Mayo saga is worthy of that dreaded NCAA label, "Lack of Institutional Control."
Floyd, in that Times story in March 2007, conveniently portrayed Guillory as a mystery man. This was comical. Not only had Guillory already been making above-board cash off of the nation's No. 1-ranked recruit as a promoter, he had also been busted in 2000 for serving as a runner for another agent. One of the players for whom Guillory had impermissibly purchased airfare was a 6-foot-4 guard named not Mayo but Jeff Trepagnier. The school he played for was none other than USC.
Even though he wasn't in L.A. during the Trepagnier trouble, Floyd isn't dumb enough to not have connected the dots and known that Guillory-arranged goods would be dirty. Nor is the Trojans' coach naive enough not to know that agents had been hovering around Mayo since middle school. Floyd invited Mayo and Guillory into his program -- the latter was seen hanging around the USC locker room during the '06-07 season, a year before Mayo arrived -- and hoped the situation would not implode. Now it has, and a plea of ignorance from Floyd and the Trojans, even if they deliberately tried to ignore the dealings between Mayo, Guillory and BDA, is not an acceptable excuse.
That said, it will not be shocking if the NCAA and its mostly powerless investigative unit fails to prove any culpability for Floyd or USC -- and that means that despite what they deserve, the Trojans' coach may keep his job and the school may avoid major penalties.
Ultimately the biggest impact here may be in the public perception of the NBA's minimum-age rule, which blocks players from entering the draft until they're one year removed from high school. It was enacted two seasons ago as a supposedly positive measure, but it became both the reason Mayo was forced to spend a sham year playing "amateur" basketball at USC, and the means by which a leech like Guillory could make a living steering Mayo through college and into the hands of BDA.