This article has been submitted by Trevor Smith.
“Even If They Don’t Like Me, They Respect The God”- Jay-Z
Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo has earned many labels throughout his young life. Among them: Phenom, Prodigy, and Punk. That Mayo’s basketball talent is otherworldly has never been in question. Since the age of twelve, when he was in the sixth grade, he has been dubbed a sure-fire NBA star by any and every roundball media outlet in North America. The only issue with O.J. was the controversy that seemed to beset him on all sides. His most recent misstep, regarding his now-former agent and illegal payments, merely adds to a laundry list of indiscretions. Even before attending college, Mayo was a household name, famous as much for his attitude as his crossover. His checkered past raised more than eyebrows. It also erected red flags about the one thing that can cause one’s Draft stock to drop faster than a suspect jumper: “character issues.” Yes, Mayo is probably the best natural talent in the Draft this year not named Derrick Rose. But there certainly lies the potential that he may slip from a top-three pick to the low end of the lottery. Those that would bury Mayo and his reputation before he even dons a professional uniform need stay their rushed criticism and armchair shrewdness though, for we have been shown by another Ohio basketball phenom, one LeBron James, exactly how quickly strong play and added experience can turn a young man with considerable controversy into a credible success.
“Nobody Lost, Nobody Found”- Cut Copy
Mayo began playing high school varsity when he was in the seventh grade, (he dropped 27 points in his first game against players five years his senior). Before he was actually in high-school, he was mentioned numerous times in Sports Illustrated and USA Today. He followed by winning two consecutive Division III Ohio state titles and was National Player of the Year twice before his Senior season. Carmelo Anthony and King James himself attended his AAU games and more than 16,000 students watched him taken down perennial national-powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. But the 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard had had run-ins with authority throughout his time at North College Hill, which eventually saw him return to his boyhood home of Huntington, West Virginia. His one season stay at Huntington High did nothing to quiet the storm of controversy that swelled around the 18-year old.
In January 2007, Mayo allegedly assaulted referee Mike Lazo after being ejected from a Huntington High game against Capital High School. He was suspended for two games however, with video evidence that showed Lazo had faked the incident, a temporary restraining order was signed to temporarily lift the suspensions (though the restraining order was eventually nullified and Mayo was suspended for three games). He was later cited, in March, for possession of marijuana and was ticketed. Mayo seemed unfazed by his off-court troubles, as he led Huntington to a state championship. In the state final, OJ’s play was brilliant (41 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists) however, yet again it was his disposition that drew national attention, as he threw the ball deep into the stands during play and was ejected. Tact, it seemed, was not young OJ’s forte. It appeared to most that he was a product of the Ocho Cinqo & T.O. School of Professional Etiquette.
“Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin’ New” – The Roots
What so many of us are quick to forget however is that the King of Akron, now the face of the NBA, Nike and half of the corporations in America, was once perceived similarly as a delinquent. It was not so long ago that Wall Street and ESPN alike saw LeBron as a “thug” and a “gangster” whose once-in-a-generation talent was being overshadowed by a sense of entitlement and domineering attitude. It seems easy to forget the infamous Hummer Incident, when his mom Gloria ignited a national controversy by taking out against LeBron’s future earning power to buy an $80,000 H2. Later, James was spotted at a Chicago Bulls game wearing a “James, 23” Bulls uniform; that sort of hubris and sacrilege was unacceptable from any player, much less one that had yet to play a minute professionally. Those incidents, paired with his acceptance of $845 in throwback jerseys and subsequent loss of his amateur eligibility, made many question just how mature James might be. It was unclear whether he was a risky investment as a franchise player: might he become distracted with fame and never realize his considerable potential? These distractions dogged him heading into the Draft, though he of course eventually went first overall. Now, five seasons later, James stands atop the basketball world as the savior of the league and the leading man in David Stern’s plan for world domination. James was able to mature, to develop as a professional, and to season as the face of a franchise and all that is entailed with that role. It is just as likely that, after surrounding himself with the right advisors and aligning with canny decision makers, Mayo could do the same. Any team willing to pass on Mayo should look to James’ example for validation that just because a young, spoiled athlete made some poor decisions, he is not in any way a lost cause.
“Later For That All That Gangsta Bullshit”- Stringer Bell
Two years ago, Mayo had been considered a lock to make the leap straight from high school to the NBA. He was assured of being the first overall pick in his draft year, as he had been ranked as the best prospect in America since he was in the seventh grade. But much to OJ’s chagrin, the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement instituted a “Age Limit” rule, whereby a player must be at least a year out of high school before he can enter the NBA. This effectively curtailed Mayo’s plans for professional domination, at least on this side of the Atlantic. He toyed with the idea of playing professionally in Europe for the year before ultimately arriving at USC. That this option was even considered is a testament to how outstanding Mayo’s potential is. On talent alone, he stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of his draft class. After a slow start to his college career, Mayo turned the corner and played outstanding, efficient basketball. Since finishing his lone season at USC, Mayo has come under renewed scrutiny, as it has been alleged that he received numerous gifts on behalf of his future agent Bill Duffy. This is a clear violation to NCAA rules and OJ cut ties with Duffy a week later, though it remains unclear how much the allegations will hurt him in this month’s draft.
Mayo may prove to be exactly what his detractors suggest: a spoiled, self-concerned punk who believes himself above the system and the game itself. Yet he may simply be a product of that system. It is a system where AAU stars are pampered like All-Pros when they are fifteen, where they are coddled and managed to the point of being in arrested development, where shoe contracts and signing bonuses are more important than W’s. OJ Mayo did not create that system, he merely pimped it. And he may still rise above it
Whether Mayo’s past becomes a footnote in his legacy or a telling first sign of trouble will be dictated almost entirely by his play on the floor (whether that play be for Miami, Minnesota, or others). If OJ is able to put childish things away, and develop into the leading man almost every talent scout alive believes he can be, he potentially could challenge Chris Paul and Dwight Howard as the future of the L. If he is not, his name will be added to a long list of “shoulda-been stars” who missed because they could not put their past behind them and embrace their considerably bright future. All that can be said with any great certainty is that Mayo’s talent and potential makes him worth the risk.
This article has been submitted by Trevor Smith.