Growing Apart

Budding superstar O.J. Mayo might leave the tiny Ohio high school he helped put on the map
May 07, 2006

O.J. Mayo andNorth College Hill (Ohio) High have done well by each other since the pointguard enrolled there three years ago (SI, Dec. 5). Mayo, 18, a junior andtwo-time winner of Ohio's Mr. Basketball award, has lived up to his billing asa future NBA superstar. NCH, a small public school, has reaped thebenefits--increased gate receipts, uniform donations from Reebok andvoter-approved tax revenue--of hosting a player with LeBron-like buzz.

Now, however,their marriage may be headed for a divorce. Last month Mayo was suspended byNCH, his third ban in a year. Neither NCH nor Mayo has commented, but Mayo'sclose friend and teammate, Bill Walker, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that Mayohad been disciplined for fighting. (The previous suspensions were reportedlyfor fighting and missing class.) A source close to Mayo told SI that the fightinvolved a female student and that Mayo will remain enrolled but can't attendclasses with other students for the rest of the school year.

Two weeks ago Mayodrove to Mouth of Wilson, Va., to inquire about transferring to prep powerhouseOak Hill Academy. At first the school was receptive--but Mayo neglected tomention his latest suspension. After school officials learned about it throughnews reports, they contacted Mayo last week and said he would not be admittedto Oak Hill.

As Mayo ponders atransfer, he may be distancing himself from Dwaine Barnes, his legal guardianand summer coach--and the person who engineered his move to North College Hill.According to the source, Mayo is "basically living on his own" in Ohiobecause Barnes, whom Mayo calls his grandfather even though the two areunrelated, now spends most of his time in his and Mayo's hometown ofHuntington, W.Va. (Mayo's mother lives there; he has no contact with hisfather.) Two weeks ago Mayo spurned Barnes's AAU team, the D-I Greyhounds, toplay for the Miami Tropics. Mayo rejoined the Greyhounds last weekend for atournament in Akron, but Tropics coach Art Alvarez has suggested Mayo couldplay for the Tropics this summer.

NCH could suffer adouble loss: Walker, one of the nation's top five high school players, isunlikely to return if Mayo goes. Still, athletic director Joe Nickel told SIthe school has benefited from having the pair for three years. "We're setfinancially for the next 10 years because O.J. and Bill came to ourschool," Nickel said. "No matter what happens, nobody can take thataway."

PHOTOHOWIE MCCORMICK/ICON SMI (MAYO)EXTRAMAYO - The star guard of North College Hill has led it to two state titles inthree years.

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