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National spotlight is back on Mayo

USC recruit will draw attention at All-American basketball game, this time for the right reason.

March 28, 2007|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, KY. — USC basketball recruit O.J. Mayo returns to the court tonight, so presumably he will be able to open a newspaper this week to find reports about things other than suspensions and marijuana citations.

The guard from Huntington (W.Va.) High made headlines in recent weeks for seemingly everything except the remarkable basketball skills that landed him here for the McDonald's All-American game.

"You want it on the basketball court, but you don't want it in your personal life whenever you're at home or out and about," Mayo said Tuesday of the scrutiny he receives. "But after awhile, it's like, hey, that's the life I chose. I want to be one of the greatest players to ever play. I want to be an NBA hall of famer, so if this comes with the territory, then bring it on."

Mayo was having a reasonably tranquil senior year until his ejection from a January game in which he received two technical fouls and made contact with a referee, who dropped to the floor.

The incident resulted in a three-game suspension and prompted Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon to say on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" that Mayo was "acting like a young punk who needs some responsible adults around him to grab him by the collar and shove him into a locker."

Mayo said he "barely brushed" the referee and lamented that he and Wilbon did not speak before he was bashed on national television.

"I would like to get a chance to meet him before he speaks on me," Mayo said. "Don't go off hearsay or read Internet sites."

Just when the furor over the suspension was starting to subside, Mayo was cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession after the car he was riding in was pulled over by police in his hometown. The citation was later dismissed after another man in the vehicle claimed ownership of the marijuana.

Mayo has also faced speculation that he came to USC under less-than-wholesome circumstances.

"I haven't gotten any benefits, nothing," he said. "I still live in the same house, my momma drives the same car, she has the same job."

Rodney Guillory, a Los Angeles events promoter, served as an intermediary in Mayo's dealings with USC, including initiating contact with Trojans Coach Tim Floyd. Mayo said Guillory was a trusted friend who "has a home where maybe I can go to get some thoughts together." But as for who might represent him after college when he launches his professional career, the player said, "I haven't looked at any of that yet."

Another top high school player who will be moving to L.A. for college, UCLA-bound Kevin Love of Lake Oswego (Ore.) High, said Mayo seems to be watched closer than other stars of his stature playing in the McDonald's game.

"He's been under so much pressure and been under the eyes of so many people that if he slips up one time, it's going to make national headlines," Love said. "If I slip up, that might not happen."

Mayo, who will play for the East team tonight -- Love will play for the West -- said he planned to join his USC teammates as soon as possible to start lifting weights and taking 1,000 shots a day.

He said he wanted his college experience to mirror that of a typical freshman as much as possible.

"I want to be treated just as equal as everyone, be in the dorms," he said. "That's something you have to experience, that's a part of college -- doing your own laundry, not having your mom do your laundry and little things like that."

But Mayo acknowledged he bears special responsibilities.

"I have been in the spotlight since I was younger, and at times people can hold me to a higher standard and I understand that," he said. "I'm a role model for kids, and I understand that, too. Sometimes you make mistakes, and hopefully you can get through them and maybe things will get better for you."

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