March 26, 2007
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - O.J. Mayo is as comfortable in the arena's hallways as on the court, signing T-shirts for ballboys and autographs for an opponent's cheerleaders as a city police officer snaps a photo of one of the nation's top prep players.
Admirers like those at the recent state high school tournament followed Mayo through a remarkable but troubled senior season that included a three-game suspension, two losses and a drug charge - and ended with a championship.
"We had a lot of bumps and bruises, a lot of ups and down. This most definitely wasn't an easy ride," Mayo said. "But we stuck together like a family and we finished it off well."
After a trip to Louisville, Ky., to play in the McDonald's All-American game on Wednesday with Huntington High teammate Patrick Patterson, Mayo is off to Southern California in the fall.
It's a big step for the 6-foot-5 Mayo, who has been closely followed since he was recruited to play high school ball in Kentucky as a seventh grader.
He transferred out of Kentucky with current Kansas State player and Huntington native Bill Walker to Cincinnati's North College Hill in 2003, where they won two Ohio Division III championships and Mayo twice was named state player of the year.
After Walker was ruled ineligible to play this season, Mayo moved back to his hometown of Huntington. Two losses to out-of-state competition took away Huntington's chances at a mythical national championship, but not the Highlanders' trophy.
They averaged 101 points in the three-game state tournament. In his final game, Mayo had 41 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists in a 103-61 win over South Charleston for Huntington's unprecedented third straight Class AAA championship.
This season, Mayo averaged 28 points per game and was a near-unanimous selection as West Virginia's player of the year. His final points were typical Mayo.
On a breakaway, he threw the ball underhanded off the backboard, caught it and dunked it in the same motion. He then threw the ball deep into the stands, drawing a technical foul.
While his popularity attracted more television cameras and bigger venues, some of the extra attention shed unwanted light on some problems.
Mayo was ejected from a Jan. 26 game with rival Capital and served a three-game suspension after he bumped a referee, who fell to the floor.
Earlier this month, Mayo was cited for marijuana possession, but the charge was dropped after another man in the car with Mayo took full responsibility for the drugs.
"I'd just like to put it behind me. The situation wasn't a good one," Mayo said. "Things happen sometimes, wrong place at the wrong time.
"Any time you have adversity, any time you can overcome it, it's always going to make you a stronger person."
Mayo's mother said she hopes her son takes those life lessons with him when he embarks on a 2,300-mile trek to Los Angeles for his freshman season.
Alisha Mayo said she taught her son to be "accountable for your actions at every turn. Mama can't help you every time."
And fame can be taken away as quickly as it arrives.
"He's got an awful lot of talent," said South Charleston coach Robert Dawson. "Hopefully he'll do the things that will keep him up there, because now the levels go up for him. The competition will be unbelievable, even in practice."
There's already plenty of speculation about whether he'll jump to the NBA after one college season.
"I'll see where I stand starting with college workouts and competing with different guys this summer," Mayo said. "I just want to be the greatest player I can be and be an NBA Hall of Famer one day."