"History has to start from somewhere, and I was thinking [of] maybe getting USC turned around."
With his announcement yesterday that he was indeed heading to the NBA, the book officially closes on the Mayo basketball era at USC.
I wasn't happy with all the hype over Mayo's arrival because he had yet to prove anything and of course the whole way he came to USC made this whole situation intriguing at best. It has been noted in numerous places that OJ wanted to do for SC basketball what Reggie Bush did for football. The problem is you have to stay more than one year to do that sort of work and have that sort of impact.
And there's this: With him, USC has won 20 games and seems a lock for an NCAA tournament berth. Without him, "I'd hate to think where we'd be . . ." USC Coach Tim Floyd said.
Few freshmen have made the kind of immediate splash Mayo spoke of as a high school senior, when he said he picked USC in part because he thought it gave him the best chance to win a national title.
No one really knew what to expect when O.J. Mayo picked USC as his school of choice last year, after all, SC was coming off a great 2007 season that culminated in a Sweet Sixteen appearance in the NCCA Tournament. I was lucky enough to see SC play UNC in East Rutherford, I only live 5 minutes away, and it was my hope that Young and Pruitt would have hung around for one more year to help show this young team the ropes.
Mayo came in with a lot of hype and yet everyone wondered if he would live up to the hype. A lot of the criticism was unfair by may, me included, and it just goes to show that sometimes we get wrapped up in the hype and not the substance. His arrival made basketball at least to USC fans relevant again if even only to us. The opportunity to build some credibility had everyone interested even if only mildly. Mayo came out of the gates slow but in the second half of the season he showed what we wanted to see, he really carried this team at times.
But was it worth it?
Did USC as a basketball program progress? Was the mission accomplished? Yes, it was worth it but I am not sure we progressed and mission was definitely not accomplished. Elite basketball programs are not built in one year and while it has been great to see some of the exciting play by this squad this season we have a long way to go before we are consistently respectable on the national level.
Players are a little more savvy now, but with that comes a price. Mayo's desire to increase his exposure by coming to the LA market is a chess move for his future in the long term not a building block for the team in the short term. USC's desire to be relevant in basketball in a town dominated by ucla sometimes makes certain decisions seem rash and not thought out. I won't deny that there were some stretches in the season that were fun to watch but there is no gradual building its more like peaks and valleys, with more valleys than peaks.
But the local media hasn't fawned over him. One major newspaper in the region hasn't traveled with the team, and a Times columnist wrote that Mayo needed to polish his game by sticking around for one more year.
I am assuming that it's the DN that didn't travel with the team. Not surprising as the DN is in real financial dire straits, but I understand the meaning- Mayo just wasn't the draw that some expected him to be, but he did get some of the exposure that he hoped to get by coming to LA.
The one thing that was refreshing was Mayo's attitude. He was not the thug that he was made out to be and he has been nothing if not polite and he has grown with his team mates and not alienated himself from them. There was also a lot of talk about Mayo's game in general, I thought Billy Packers comments were premature considering that he had hardly seen Mayo play and that the burden placed on him expected too much from him. I think most of us would agree that Mayo probably needs another year but most top prospects for the NBA always need a little more polishing.
Of course there is the whole one and done angle with this story. I am on the fence as to whether or not players can go to the NBA right of high school. It think its obvious that there is a necessity for players to have age restrictions in regards to college football but basketball is different. There is something to be said for staying in school and polishing your game but is it right for a school to be nothing more than a way station before heading to the NBA? I simply can't answer the question as both sides of the coin have valid points.
Tim Floyd had said earlier in the year that he was going to push Mayo to go to the NBA because the opportunity was just too great. I am fine with it if he is. It is his program and he knows it far better than we do. Of course Mayo must hold up his end of the bargain by finishing classes in good standing as to not hurt USC's ability to recruit in the future. I am not a fan of recruiting one and done players en mass because it does little to solidify team chemistry.
Having senior leadership, or at least upper classmen leadership, does a lot to building a program's stability; without it a team just wanders aimlessly without and solid direction. Even if Gabe Pruitt had stayed it would have gone a long way in helping the younger guys along but hey at least he stayed until he was a junior.
O.J. Mayo gave us a lot to get excited about this past season but it ended far too soon as it seemed like just yesterday that they opened its season against Mercer. But to me it was worth it even with falling short of attaining the same level of achievement from last season. You don't get to see a player like O.J. Mayo very often so you enjoy it while you can.
Yeah, it was worth it!