Wednesday, September 12, 2007

O.J. Mayo On The Cover of Slam

O.J. Mayo gracefully graces the cover of the new Slam, which should be on newsstands next week.

I'm actually feeling the cover. O.J. dipped in USC colors with the Bentley in the back and "Fresh Prince of L.A." as the subtitle is hot.

Gawd, I can't wait for college basketball to return.

The past few weeks, ever since I wrote the Derrick Rose/Mayo post, I've been trying to come to grips with whatever gripe I might have had with O.J. I like his game, and while I still don't think (and probably never will) his game is as explosive as Rose's, I admit that he is going to tear shit up at the next two levels.

I agree with what Slam's Ryan Jones said in the Mayo post he wrote today. Ryan actually did the Mayo cover story and talked today about the backlash a lot of young prepsters face after the novelty of being the "next big thing" wears off. And it's true.

The sports world we live in now is filled with experts, scouts, and analysts who scour the earth trying to find the next prodigy and then proceed to place self-made expectations upon the kid that are both far-fetched and unreasonable. In some cases, the kid rises above the hype, in which case doubters mock the competition and say that said kid is "overrated".

O.J. Mayo is a special case. He exceed the limitations placed upon his high school career (except for the whole next LeBron thing, Bron was even more otherworldly in high school as he is now, if that's possible), but he did it while appearing to most (including myself, I admit) as a diva. Coming from the hood, this was a norm among gifted athletes who were showered with praises since birth, so I was equally not suprised and annoyed at the same time.

I hate listening to the middle-aged, white, conservative media types who are so extremely out of touch with this generation's athletes that any form braggadacio is considered vile and abrasive. But, sometimes I agree with their criticism of young, prep athletes who are often catered to as prima donnas by the world eager to get a piece of their future success. I can take it from professional players, but a 11th grader has nothing to be arrogant about. You don't want to piss off people before you graduate from high school, trust me. It pains me to see players gunning for stats to make their profile look better, or supposed point guards taking over 20 shots in AAU All-Star Games instead of just playing as if there was an actual goal of winning. Arrogant athletes I can sometimes be tolerate; me-first, me-second arrogant ones I can't.

I always saw O.J. going down that route, or helping to pave his own special lane on that route. Right or wrong, I saw him as the epitome of everything wrong with prep basketball, the symbol that the innocence of amateur hoops was gone. Him changing schools just to play for certain coaches or to play with certain players or to be close to certain father figures wasn't necessarily wrong, but it was indicative of the negative image big-name prep athletes were starting to receive.

His last second antics in the West Virginia championship game was overblown, but, in my opinion, might have been unnecessary. (Granted, that dunk and shirt toss into the crowd came at the end of a brilliant title victory game in which he recorded a triple-double with 41 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists. Sorry about not mentioning that in the first post.) Also, his erratic play in the All-American Game proved to some critics (including me at the time) that he only saw himself on the court. His East team was down by 2 in the final seconds and he had an open lane for a layup or dunk. Instead of going for the deuce, he stopped and bricked a slightly contested three-pointer and his team lost. As the Sports Guy pointed out, it looked as if he was more concerned about missing the shot than actually winning.

Compare that to Derrick Rose (I know I keep bringing his name up, sorry) and Kevin Love, two much-hyped recruits with names a tad less as big as Mayo's. Rose, a point guard with amazing scoring ability, went out of his way to get his teammates involved while holding back his scoring (a little too much) in order to get the win. Love, a burly big man with a NBA-ready post game, displayed a fundamental team game that impressed scouts more than his play on the inside. Mayo shot 4-17 and forced shots all game.

Even his recruitment was shady. It was good to see him choose a school where he could help jumpstart a basketball powerhouse. He'll only jumpstart it, because he's made it quite clear that Southern California is only a (very) temporary step on his way to the NBA, like Rose, possibly crosstown to the Los Angeles Clippers, who are badly in need of a dominant lead guard.

Yet and still, I'm excited for the O.J. Mayo Era. He's always had the game to back up his humongous reputation and the hype that ensued. He will make USC a more watched team; better, maybe not, but everyone's eyes will be on them.

And maybe he's not as bad a guy as people make him out to be. By a lot of accounts, he's a very personable and polite dude, not that any of these things relate to his play on the court. But he definitely has the attitude of a NBA player, even though he's yet to suit up as a college freshman.

Maybe the NBA is where he belongs. Maybe then it'll be easier to tolerate him.


Don said...

Great post. Enjoyed the read. I hope Mayo proves the haters wrong, and avoids getting into trouble while at USC.

Trey Jones said...

I hope he doesn't punch out anybody at SC. He should be good next year.

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