Dwil of Sports on My Mind gave me a heads up on some of the recent reaction to OJ Mayo, the star high school basketball player who is on his way to USC. In Wednesday's New York Times, Lee Jenkins profiled Mayo, focusing on the bizarre "recruiting" process that led him to the University of Southern California.
Here's Jenkins' account of the cloak and dagger tale:
It sounds like a fairy tale.
A stranger walked into the University of Southern California basketball office one day last summer and asked to speak to the head coach. The stranger did not make an appointment. He did not call ahead. Tim Floyd, the U.S.C. head coach, cannot explain why he agreed to see him.
Nine months later, as U.S.C. prepares for the regional semifinal of the N.C.A.A. tournament, Floyd recounted his version of that conversation.
The mysterious man got right to the point. “How would you like to have the best player in the country?” he asked.
Floyd tried not to roll his eyes.
“Have you heard of O. J. Mayo?” the man asked.
Of course Floyd had heard of him. Everyone in basketball had heard of him. Mayo was first mentioned in Sports Illustrated when he was in the seventh grade. He was considered a future lottery pick by the time he entered high school. He once talked trash to Michael Jordan during a pickup game at Jordan’s camp.
Mayo was entering his senior season as a point guard at Huntington High School in Huntington, W.Va., but Floyd said he did not bother to call him. He did not even send him a U.S.C. brochure.
What was the point? Major universities had been courting Mayo for four years. Floyd had been at U.S.C. for fewer than 18 months. Besides, Floyd had only recruited two top-100 players in his life. He had no business going after Mayo, the No. 1 player in the country, especially being from a football college that was 3,000 miles away.
“O. J. wanted me to come here today,” the man told Floyd. “He wanted me to figure out who you are.”
Jenkins went on to note that when Floyd asked for Mayo's cell phone number, the mystery intermediary told him that Mayo doesn't give out his cell phone number and that Mayo would call Floyd. When Mayo did call Floyd, he again refused to give him his number, but assured Floyd that he wanted to come to USC. As Jenkins tells it, Floyd remained skeptical:
Mayo had not been on an official campus visit. He had not seen the new arena, the Galen Center. He did not know anything about the current roster.
Floyd did not believe it was possible to get a verbal commitment from a player he had recruited for less than one day, especially when that player was a 6-foot-5 sharpshooter with blue-chip strength, quickness and passing ability.
“I want to be different,” Floyd recalls Mayo telling him. “I want to leave a mark.”
Mayo said that if he did not go to U.S.C., he would probably enroll at an African-American college. Such colleges are renowned academically, but they do not typically produce pro basketball players.
Mayo’s mind was apparently made up. He was already looking ahead. “How many scholarships do we have for next year?” he asked.
Floyd stammered. “After this,” he said, “I guess we have three.”
Mayo went through the priority list in his mind. “Don’t worry about recruiting,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”
The Big Lead wrote a couple of times about the Jenkins Mayo story, and drew very unflattering conclusions about Mayo from it. The first was this post on Wednesday, which linked to youtube video of Mayo throwing down a vicious dunk at the end of his final high school home game, a rout against a hapless opponent, and then chucking the ball into the stands.
This video’s been making the rounds for a few days. It’s OJ Mayo’s final high school moments. There’s a dunk, hurling of the ball into the crowd, and a technical. You half expected the guy take of his jersey, fling it into the crowd, grab his nuts and point at women and leave for the locker room, groupies in tow.
More cocky than the video? His entitled attitude toward college basketball, courtesy of the NY Times.
It’s incredibly sickening, and we truly wish Tim Floyd the best in this endeavor (first though, PLEASE cover 8.5 against UNC). Why Floyd would want anything to do with someone who lives by this credo, “O. J. doesn’t give out his cell … He’ll call you” is beyond us. Mayo is the anti-Kevin Durant, and exemplifies everything that is wrong with American youth basketball. Increasingly, it’s trickling up to the NBA.
The above-mentioned Dwil went off on media coverage of Mayo on his blog - Sports on My Mind.
Dwil noted that, though it was never reported nationally, according to one observer at Mayo's final game, the West Virginia State Championship, the 18-year old sensation did not merely fling the ball into the crowd following his notorious dunk. Instead, he was tossing the ball to his father. Furthermore, as dwil tells it:
Tim Floyd was a guest on ESPN’s “Cold Pizza” this morning. Floyd told Cold Pizza interviewer Dana Jacobson that the reason Mayo didn’t share his number with Floyd is because he is the son of a single mother who pays his phone bill. Mayo didn’t have the money to pay for continuous west coast-east coast phone calls. Floyd also said that though he has Mayo’s cellphone number now, they don’t talk with each other that often, but Floyd says he knows he doesn’t need to communicate with Mayo often because of the high schooler’s maturity.
He welcomes the fact that Mayo doesn’t need daily phone calls or text messages as many other recruits do. Floyd also admonished PTI’s Michael Wilbon for the derogatory statements Wilbon made on PTI yesterday.
Additionally, after USC athletic director Mike Garrett met Mayo he indicated to Floyd that Mayo was the most mature recruit to ever walk into his A.D. office.
Dwil also credits Mayo with understanding how the "game" is played:
What O. J. Mayo knows more than any young man coming into the NCAA meat house is that he is a one-man corporation. He knows the system is set up to make billions of dollars off the backs of young men black and white, the vast majority of whom will never parlay their athletic talent into performing in professional leagues, and many of whom will never walk the walk to receive their undergraduate diplomas.
Speaking of Wilbon, when he and PTI partner Tony Kornheiser discussed Mayo Wednesday evening, Kornheiser introduced the subject by recounting elements of the Jenkins story, and his voice rose with emphasis when he recounted how Mayo refused to give Floyd his phone number.
I wouldn't even let this kids' plane, and it might be a private jet land in the city where my school is, because what's next for Caoch Floyd, is OJ gonna say "coach, run out and get me a samich (sic)," is he gonna say coach "I'll take care of the timeouts," "coach I don't want to practice today." He has turned himself over to some kid, he's turned his whole program over to a kid who says, "no, I don't want you to be able to call me," it is insane.
Wilbon also asked "how would coach Knight handle this" in reference to the fact that Mayo has been upfront in saying that he wants to attend USC because Los Angeles is a media capital that will provide a good spring board for him to market himself. Wilbon fairly dripped with content for Mayo and for the circumstances surrounding his decision to come to USC, arguing that "no self-respecting coach in America" would take on a kid like Mayo.
Now, I don't know that, just because one observer says so, that Mayo was throwing the ball to his father. And, maybe Floyd is just covering for his future player in explaining Mayo's refusal to give out the phone number, since Guillory could have just as easily explained to Floyd that he should only call Mayo rarely, since his single working mom pays the bill.
So, let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Mayo refused to give out his # at first for unclear reasons and that he was just tossing that ball into the crowd for no particular purpose. It still boggles the mind that Mayo's actions could generate this level of vituperation. That TBL regards Mayo's "attitude toward college basketball" as "incredibly sickening" is fascinating, for two reasons. One, the Jenkins article isn't really about Mayo's attitude toward college basketball per se - it's about his decision to come to USC. And, according to that article, Mayo chose USC over UCLA because he wanted to make a mark by helping establish a new tradition. What's so objectionable about that particular desire is unclear. Furthermore, according to the Jenkins piece, as noted above, Mayo was only interested in USC or an historically Black college. It's not clear how this shows greater contempt for college basketball than any other blue chip recruit - almost none of whom can really be said to basing their school choice on the quality of education they might receive or any other consideration outside of how it might affect their basketball careers. That Mayo is more up front about that appears to be his most serious transgression.
But, more striking still is the fact that an 18-year old is being attacked for an institutional decision over which he has no control. Mayo is going to college because the NBA is leaving him no choice. And, Wilbon, in invoking Bobby Knight's name here, appears to have failed to grasp Knight's own criticisms of the new rule. Knight specifically said that he wouldn't blame any coach who recruited a one-and-done player like Mayo (or Kevin Durant) because that's what the rules allow for. And, Knight didn't comment at all about the decision-making process of the kids themselves for the transparently obvious reason that the blue-chip high schoolers don't have a choice but to go to college in their first year after high school.
Wilbon is essentially blaming Mayo for a decision made by the NBA. He is also vilifying Mayo for maintaining a set of priorities that - when pursued by large, powerful, institutional interests - namely the desire to make as much money as possible - passes almost without comment. If Ohio State wants to run a $100 million athletic operation with a questionable commitment to academic integrity, that's worthy of a flattering magazine-length profile in SI. If an 18-year old kid wants to make the most, from a business standpoint, of his enforced year without an income to which he would otherwise be entitled, he shouldn't even be allowed in the same city as the poor, beleaguered coach and university that he's planning to attend. So, it's the 18-year old son of a single working mom who had Mayo when she was sixteen who has all the power, and the innocent victims here are USC - a sports behemoth, Tim Floyd, a highly paid professional, and the NCAA, whose spotless integrity is being sullied by the kid.
Black is White, Up is down.
The reaction to Mayo's refusal to give out his cell phone at first is reminiscent of the reaction to Stephon Marbury telling a reporter a few weeks back that he answers to no one, when Marbury was asked whether he can really afford to do a TV show during the middle of a basketball season. Mike and Mike were prompted by this threat to national well-being to devote a lengthy discussion to it, in order to understand how bad people like Stephon Marbury came to be. When athletes fail to defer to rightful authority, when they fail to recognize their proper place in the social pecking order, they are a menace to society. They're not merely 18 year olds with a little attitude - instead, they are exemplars of "everything that is wrong" be it with youth basketball or American culture more generally.