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Mayo's L.A. summer of anonymity ends

After the last two months of classes and star-filled pickup games, he starts practicing with USC today.

August 27, 2007|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

He has played in a pickup game against Kobe Bryant, dined with LeBron James and gone window shopping along Melrose Avenue, yet O.J. Mayo hasn't exactly gone Hollywood since arriving in Southern California. Far from it.

That much became clear several days ago when the USC freshman guard interrupted an interview to tell a homeless man sifting through a garbage bin outside the Galen Center that his shopping cart was rolling toward Figueroa Street. Mayo addressed the man, like he does all male adults, as "Sir."

Mayo's mode of transportation in the land of Bentleys and BMWs is a black beach cruiser, which he can still pedal somewhat anonymously through campus. Outside the Galen Center last week, two Trojans volleyball players spotted arguably the most heralded basketball recruit in school history and didn't know who he was.

"L.A.'s a big city, and there's a lot going on," Mayo said when asked whether he was recognized everywhere he went. "A lot of people don't really take the time to look at other people unless you're a star with the paparazzi and all of that. But I've got my share of looks."

He'll probably generate more buzz starting today, when he begins practicing with his Trojans teammates in preparation for a series of exhibitions over Labor Day weekend in Mazatlan, Mexico.

Mayo has spent most of the two months since he arrived on campus immersing himself in basketball and books. He received a B-plus in two summer school classes, Race, Class and Gender in American Film and a geography course in which he studied environmental disasters and diseases in other countries.

Along the way, he has developed a cure for homesickness.

"I've got a basketball and a 10-foot goal," Mayo said. "I've been knowing that family since I was 10 years old."

It seems the 19-year-old is off to a successful start in his attempt to distance himself from a turbulent senior year of high school in which he was suspended for three games after making contact with a referee and cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession, a charge that was later dismissed.

"Mayo is my name on my mom's side of the family, and I just wanted to come out to the West Coast and represent our side of the family as best I could," he said. "I had some incidents last season, and that really wasn't me. Maybe some things got blown out of proportion a little bit, but you've got to deal with it.

"I just wanted to come out here and show people that I'm a student-athlete, and I just want an opportunity to take care of my family one day."

Mayo has already shepherded his fellow freshman teammates by organizing pickup games and individual workouts in an effort "to jell a little bit before we start" practice.

"He's really tried to show a lot of leadership, particularly with the freshman group," Coach Tim Floyd said.

The 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard has also displayed his considerable skills in pickup games throughout the Southland against an impressive array of NBA players, including Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Sam Cassell and J.J. Redick.

"It was just going and getting beat up on a little bit," Mayo said, "just to learn the bumps and bruises and get better as a player."

Was Mayo able to hold his own?

"I tried my best," he said, flashing a wide smile. "A lot of people said they liked what they saw and said just continue working hard with the opportunity to be a special player in the league. That's just my dream, to be a dominant player in the league and hopefully lead a team to the NBA title.

"Right now I'm just focusing on USC basketball and our team, making sure we're getting better as a team and trying to make a run for the Pac-10 title and the national title."

Mayo said those were realistic goals despite the departure of swingman Nick Young and guard Gabe Pruitt, who left for the NBA after junior seasons in which they averaged a combined 30 points.

"I think so," Mayo said. "I think with a lot of hard work and teamwork and determination, we should be able to get it done."

Initially recruited as a point guard, Mayo may have to assume a role as more of a scorer to offset the loss of so much firepower on offense. That should be a relatively smooth transition for a McDonald's All-American who averaged 28.2 points, 7.2 assists and 6.1 rebounds while leading Huntington (W.Va.) High to a state title as a senior.

"I'll fill in wherever coach feels is necessary," Mayo said. "I'll just have to see what we need."

Projected as a lottery pick in whichever NBA draft he decides to enter, Mayo is also making time to soak in a bit of the L.A. lifestyle. He had dinner with James, the Cleveland Cavaliers star who Mayo has known since Mayo was in ninth grade.

"We just kicked it and talked about life and things, not really basketball," Mayo said.

Mayo also checked out storefronts along Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

"Just window shopping," he said. "I've got to get some money."


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