O.J. Mayo – USC

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Point Guard/Shooting Guard

O.J. Mayo can be compared to a fresh new pair of “Mikes” (that’s Air Jordans for those of you outside of “The Chi”). When you first take them out the box and they’re all shiny and new, you love them so much that you want to wear them everywhere you go. But then as they start to get a little older, start collecting a little dirt and get that ugly crease in the toe; you start to like them less and less. It seems like no matter how hard you try and clean them up and no matter how many pairs of socks you stuff in them to get rid of the crease, they just never look as good as they did when you first took them out of the box. Eventually you stop wearing them and you find yourself back in the shoe store looking for the next fresh new pair. Quality wise, the old shoes are still just as good (they’re still “Mikes” for crying out loud) but because they’re old and lost the luster they once had, they’re cast to the side in favor of something new. 

Such is the case of Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo. When he was in the 6th grade, an article was written about him in a local newspaper entitled “Phenom”. In 7th grade he averged 22 ppg playing varsity basketball in Kentucky. That got him mentioned in Sports Illustrated, and caused national newspapers like USA Today to write about him. By the time he got to high school in Ohio, some people were saying he was the best player in the country – regardless of age – and had him down as the next LeBron James. That was the fresh new pair of “Mikes” love. But after a couple of incidents off the court and the one on the court with the flopping referee (YouTube that one), combined with the way he’d handled his own recruitment to USC (a little older, a little dirt, with a crease in the toe); by the time the end of his senior year rolled around (he’d transferred back to his hometown of Huntington, W.V. at that point) most people didn’t even have him ranked #1 in his class anymore. That honor went to Kevin Love (the next fresh new pair) even though O.J. had won 3 state championships in a row with 2 different schools in 2 different states (still “Mikes”). Go figure! 

Strengths: O.J. is a combo guard in the truest sense of the word. He already has an NBA body (6’5″ and 200 lbs) and an NBA game to go along with it. He can score and get his own shot pretty much whenever he gets ready. He’s a terrific ball handler, he can shoot it from NBA range consistently, and he can beat his man off the dribble with ease. He’s a very smart player that understands situations and knows how to find the open man and make the extra pass; he doesn’t force things like most young players tend to either. On top of all that…he plays defense! He was voted to the first team on both the All Pac-10 and All Freshman Pac-10 lists and his numbers this year were respectable: 20.7 ppg (#2 in the Pac-10), 3.3 apg, 4.5 rpg; he shot 44% from the field, 80% from the line and 41% from deep. Not bad for a freshman playing in arguably the toughest conference in the nation on one of the slowest and most inefficient teams offensively in the country.

Weaknesses: The knock on him coming in was that he was selfish. I guess he wanted to change that perception so at times this season he played too unselfish. Especially against Kansas State in the tournament. There have been many times this year – especially that game – where I’ve waited for him to take the game over and he never did. He’s also extremely turnover prone (3.5 pg) as a PG, but I don’t feel like that’s his “natural” position anyway. He’s best suited on the wing because his scoring ability is second to none.

Grade: A-

Suggestion: Back to Class (wishful thinking)

Summary: I saw O.J. Mayo play in the Roundball Classic in Chicago last year and I didn’t see the next LeBron James (that’s not even a fair comparison really). What I saw was a very good player who could score at will and was extremely explosive and aggressive. I didn’t see that this year which is why I think he should come back for another year and showcase his “real” game. If he does decide to come out, he’ll still be a lottery pick; but if he goes back to school and dominates the way that I know that he can, he could go #1 in ’09. But make no mistake about it, he is definitely ready for the NBA.

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