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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Don't Bet On It

One-time Maryland hoops coach Lefty Driesell once had something like this to say about players who made early commitments to colleges: "I like it. Now I know who I've got to beat."

Fast forward to 2006, where word out of Ohio is that the consensus #1 player in the HS class of 2007, O.J. Mayo, has told coaches at basketball powerhouse USC that he's going to play hoops for the Men of Troy. No, he didn't dial a wrong number and call Tim Floyd instead of Ben Howland, and, no, he didn't take a wrong turn and end up in South Central instead of Westwood at UCLA. Apparently, he likes the USC brand, likes how Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush became household names, and doesn't want to be just another name at a hoops powerhouse like Duke or North Carolina.

Interesting choice, to say the least.

Becoming a hoopster at a football school.

That's akin to becoming a football player at, well, Duke.

What in the name of John Wooden and Paul Westphal is this kid thinking?

Makes you wonder why he wants to go to a school without a hoops tradition. Makes you also wonder why he wants to go to a school whose coach really has developed only one NBA player in his career -- Marcus Fizer. Makes you wonder, period.

Playing the role of Driesell in this drama, no doubt, will be newly anointed Kansas State coach Bob Huggins, formerly of Cincinnati, a school with a hoops tradition. Okay, so there's some bad pub surrounding Huggins (SI reported that 19 of his players got arrested during his tenure), but the guy won games and supposedly had a solid in with Mayo and one of his HS teammates, a top 10 HS player in the class of '07. Well, now Coach Huggins knows who he's got to beat -- Tim Floyd and USC.

Thing is, if Mayo is looking for a school where he can make an imprint and not be just another name, K State is the place. It has played poor cousin to hoops titan Kansas for a very long time. Okay, so K State gave us Rolando Blackman, but Phog Allen, a disciple of James Naismith (the fellow who invented this great game), coached at Kansas. Wilt Chamberlain, the Paul Bunyan of the game, went to Kansas, as did Danny Manning, Kirk Hinrich, Raef LaFrentz, Nick Collison, Jacque Vaughn, Paul Pierce and many others. No, I'm not dyslexic or dyspeptic, just pointing out that if Mayo would like to slay a dragon, put a school on the map, go up against a dynasty and make a big name for himself, K State could be the place, especially given Coach Huggins' record for developing players (especially when compared to Tim Floyd's).

Only problem is that Mayo needs the bright lights, apparently, and had K State been in the real Manhattan, New York City, instead of the other Manhattan, Manhattan, Kansas, then perhaps he would have been interested. But the thing about places like Ohio and Kansas is that people fly over them to get to places like L.A. and New York City, international cities with a certain star quality that places like Kansas State will never have. In picking USC and Tim Floyd, Mayo knows that he has a school craving to make a dent in UCLA's huge hoops reputation and a coach who is looking to re-establish his name after flopping with the Chicago Bulls in his last head-coaching gig.

Gotta say one thing -- taking on UCLA in L.A. -- the kid's got cajones.

Sounds like a good potential opportunity for Mayo, but a risk for USC and Floyd, because if Mayo has figured all of this out, at the age of 18 he could be hard to handle. Remember, it wasn't as though the Fab Five left a sterling legacy at Michigan (while playing for a coach who seemed to have little ability to steer his players down the right path).

I wouldn't count K State out yet, not in the least. And I also would question the thinking of a kid who wants to play for a school with no discernible hoops tradition, for a coach who is re-treading his tires, and, at the nation's premier football school to boot. He either is into re-making one of the Labors of Hercules (which could be a compelling made-for-Disney TV movie), shirking the limelight or being selfish because at a place like SC he'll have the chance to score 45 points a game and become neither a PG or a 2G in the process.

Unless, of course, he wants to be a magnet and re-create the Fab Five. Perhaps that's the ticket, and perhaps that's what O.J. Mayo is thinking. There are flaws with this logic, however, in that he should be finding the best coach possible to help hone his game. In Tim Floyd, he might have that, but the choice doesn't seem that logical when many better coaches would have loved to get him into their programs. And, if he can't be that magnet, he'll be a bring-it-up-and-shoot-it PG.

The last time I checked, the two guys in the NBA with that description hadn't won a title -- Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury. Yes, Tiny Archibald had with the Celtics, but he had plenty of talent surrounding him. Guys named Bird, McHale and Parish, to name three. Who will surround O.J. Mayo at USC?

This is a very curious decision if, in fact, it's a decision at all.

The situation bears watching. USC sounds like, to use a golf analogy, the leader in the clubhouse.

And that old hustler, Bobby Huggins, has a few tricks in the bag to win this version of a club championship.

Don't count him out until the scorecard -- err, letter of intent -- is signed.

One real positive thing could come out of this, come to think of it. If O.J. Mayo goes to USC, reinvigorates its hoops program, tutors illiterates and comforts widows, he'll also help USC alums attach a positive vibe to a name that has meant nothing but heartache and disappointment for the past dozen plus years.

They called O.J. the football player "The Juice."

What will they call O.J. the hoopster? The Condiment? The Spread?

The possibilities are endless.

But somehow the words "best hoops prospect in the country" and USC Basketball just don't go together.


Blogger Pradamaster said...

The crazy thing about this is that this is exactly what Greg Oden did. Oden signed with Ohio State before last season; before they became the best team in the Big 10 and before they really became a basketball powerhouse. It's almost like some of these top prep stars are going to schools without huge basketball traditions to make their own legacy.

11:28 PM  

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