The O.J. Mayo story
To kick things off, though, we're taking only one question this week, and it happens to be our own:
For starters, too many people wrote off Mayo and USC after their season-opening loss to Mercer.
Anyway, we spent two hours talking to Mayo
I happen to think Mayo is the most fascinating story in college basketball, not least because his decision to attend USC came against the wishes of his loved ones back home in Huntington -- the same people he takes great pains to profess his respect and appreciation for.
Consider: the mentor Mayo calls "my grandfather" --
Meanwhile, the man who
Ziegler showed up unexpectedly at USC's first public practice and has been living in the L.A. area, raising concerns that trouble is brewing between Mayo's West Virginia family and his new California-based support system.
Sound complicated enough? Try being O.J. Mayo, who has been stuck in the middle for as long as he can remember. Now he's attempting to walk the knife-edge of breaking away from his hometown influences without burning his family ties entirely. Keeping everybody happy is no small task, which means it's the one thing he would prefer not to discuss in detail, even though it's the most interesting thing about him.
"You can probably write about it better than what I can say," Mayo says of his angst-ridden decision to defy his family and head west. "I just know it wasn't easy."
He will say this about his decision to break from Barnes, who often kept Mayo from talking to the media in high school: "I made some mistakes in high school that hurt what people thought of me, and with my grandfather being real protective, it was hard for me to show the person I really am. He was one the greatest people ever in my life besides my mom, but I thought it was time for me to mature and be alone so I can make the right decisions and grow up."
None of Mayo's closest male influences over the years (Guillory, Barnes or Ziegler) would comment, but
"You can support the warrior without supporting the war," Mayo's mother explained during a recent interview. "I say the last five years have probably been the worst five years of my life, just because I worry over [O.J.] so much. Your image is everything if this is what you want to do. You can't be an adult and make childish decisions and expect not to have repercussions, because it doesn't work like that."
"What sort of decisions are you talking about?" I asked.
"Where do you want me to start?" she replied. "When [O.J.] came and told me he wanted to move to Cincinnati [for high school]. Then he came back home and chose USC. When he chose his new circle of friends [in L.A.]. Just decisions he made that should have been more thought-out. I don't know. You can't feed temporary fetishes when there's long-term repercussions."
Alisha still communicates with Ziegler, O.J.'s father, and says part of the reason Ziegler is in L.A. is to have someone she trusts keeping tabs on the situation. "He's out there to let me know what's really going on," she says. "His dad keeps me in on a lot of things that I need to know or that I missed in articles I read on the Internet."
When it comes to trust, Mayo's mother says she doesn't have any for Guillory, her son's L.A. mentor. "Rodney kind of came in when O.J. was living in Cincinnati and I was back here," she says. "Lo and behold, there he was. I don't really know that much about him. I know what I hear, I know what I read and I know what O.J. tells me. But [Guillory] knows where I stand with him, too, because I've talked to him. You can't trust people you don't know. But if that's what O.J. wants to do, I don't want to put any extra stress on him."
One group Alisha Mayo says she has gained some trust for, however, is the USC coaches, which is why she has reluctantly come on-board with her son's decision. "Lord knows, I tried to find every negativity in USC," she says, "and I couldn't find anything negative about the school at all. Nor the program."
Welcome to basketball in the 21st century. The best young players spend their summers and winters traveling to games across the country. They receive national attention from the time they're in middle school, and when they get to college -- for no more than one season, they hope -- they want to win, of course, but they're also angling for the NBA draft and an eight-figure shoe contract. The potential rewards are spectacular, but so are the pressures, and sometimes the players get trapped between all the adults, well-meaning and otherwise.
It's a lot to deal with if you're 19 years old. That's why I'll be rooting for O.J. Mayo this season.
Have a great Thanksgiving, and make sure to send in a question for next week's Bag ...