The Next Big Thing
Rising freshman Mayo is hailed as the next LeBron JamesPosted: Thursday July 10, 2003 3:12 AM
Updated: Thursday July 10, 2003 3:27 AM
By Albert Lin, SI.com
HACKENSACK, N.J. -- His name already has appeared in national publications and his image has been broadcast on network TV. He has his own Web site (though it is temporarily down). We recently learned where he would spend the next four years of his basketball life.
LeBron James? Nope. Meet O.J. Mayo. And, no, he is not some hotshot NBA rookie. This fall, Mayo will be a freshman. In high school.
The Huntington, W.Va., native is the latest Next Big Thing in basketball circles. Mayo first gained attention two winters ago when he started for the varsity as a seventh-grader at Rose Hill Christian Academy in Ashland, Ky., and averaged 23.1 points. This past season he was named first-team all-state by the Louisville Courier-Journal, even though his scoring average dipped to 20.5.
When rumors began to surface that he was going to leave Rose Hill, speculation ran wild. In May, Mayo transferred to North College Hill in Cincinnati, where an uncle and grandfather live.
This week, the 15-year-old (he turns 16 in November) is one of four members of the class of 2007 participating in the adidas ABCD Camp.
"I was a pretty good player and considered the best player ever to come out of this area," Mayo's Rose Hill coach, former Louisville guard Jeff Hall, told USA Today last year. "I played for a national champion and was drafted by the Indiana Pacers. This kid is way better than me."
Mayo stands 6-foot-4 and weighs in the neighborhood of 185 pounds. He has the lean, sinewy build of a basketball player. He's an excellent athlete, with the ability to elevate on his jumper and grab rebounds above the rim. Mayo has always been his high school team's primary ball handler, but at ABCD he is teamed with Peoria (Ill.) Central star Shaun Livingston, a 6-6 point guard who dominates the ball, so it's been difficult to see the full complement of his skills.
One thing is certain -- Mayo already has all the trappings of a superstar: the Web site. Attending school away from home, which now will allow a third state to claim him as its own. An advisor (in this case, an uncle) who won't let him speak to SI.com because the family is upset with two mentions in Sports Illustrated, including in this Rick Reilly column, that it perceives as negative.
Mayo, however, seems above it all -- a 15-year-old kid just happy to be playing basketball. Through surreptitious means, SI.com discovered that he is friendly, chatty, bright and more worldly than one might imagine.
"I'm the next O.J.," he said. "If they want to call me the next LeBron, then I'll be that, too. Who wouldn't want that?
"Just like Michael Jordan set the bar higher for the NBA, LeBron set the bar higher for high school basketball. The publicity, what he's done -- it's amazing, man."
The two prodigies met last season when James dropped in unannounced on a Rose Hill game. He apparently was a vocal observer, good-naturedly taunting Mayo by shouting, "You're supposed to be the next me?!?"
That made Mayo want to put on a show. "He told me I got his respect," Mayo said.
Mayo is just beginning to get a taste of the hype that accompanied James during his senior year. And just think: James wasn't "discovered" until the middle of his sophomore season, so Mayo has a three-year head start.
"I'd love to have [James-like attention]. It makes me work harder," Mayo said. "If there are a lot of expectations, I want to live up to them.
Don't think Ovington J'Anthony Mayo is a naif who is being exploited by those around him. In fact, he is well aware of the opportunities that will present themselves. When asked about James' record-setting shoe contract with Nike, Mayo is quick with a retort: "Should Bill Gates be allowed to get the money he does? LeBron didn't say he wanted $90 million; they offered it and he took it."
Camp pooh-bah Sonny Vaccaro told the players that, statistically speaking, only five of the more than 200 in attendance will make the NBA. "I'm gonna be there," Mayo said. "That's what I believe, that that's going to happen. If I keep working hard, I can't be denied."
Yet despite the brazen confidence, Mayo is a realist. He insists that he wants to attend college, and that even being projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the draft won't change his mind. He recognizes that he has a long way -- a very long way -- to go before even thinking about the NBA.
"Look around," he said, motioning behind him to ongoing action. "Am I the best player on the court? No. That right there knocks me down, makes me stay humble. I want to be the best player in camp, to dominate camp."
The world will be watching every step of the way.
Four of a kind
Here are quick looks at the other three rising freshman at adidas ABCD Camp:
A lanky left-hander with a quick, effective stroke, Beasley appeared to loaf a little out there. He's more athletic and stronger than his slight frame would indicate. A Maryland native who is prepping in Florida, he doesn't turn 15 until January.
Very similar to Beasley -- a rangy lefty with a nice jumper -- but not as athletic. However, King has a knack for getting off his shot inside or out, even in traffic. Will receive terrific coaching from Gary McKnight at Mater Dei.
Long, quick and athletic, with -- get this -- size-18 feet. That means this soon-to-be 15-year-old could end up growing another six to eight inches. Not afraid to battle for rebounds, which is unusual for someone of his size and inexperience.