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August 30, 2007

Mayo creating basketball buzz at USC

LOS ANGELES - Forty years after O.J. Simpson ran roughshod over opposing defenses on the football field, Southern California has another O.J. on campus. This one plays basketball.

O.J. Mayo comes in as one of the nation's most highly sought recruits. The 6-foot-5 freshman guard is the jewel of coach Tim Floyd's recruiting class and is seen as the key to changing a widely held perception that USC is just a football school.

Of course, the Trojans' football team is ranked No. 1 going into Saturday night's season-opener. The basketball team isn't there yet, although it reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament last season.

"O.J. has created quite a buzz," Floyd said Tuesday. "He's been one of the most talked about high school athletes over the last decade, and with that come expectations. He's a great talent, but I want to remind people that he is a freshman."

It's been widely speculated that Mayo will play one season at USC and jump to the NBA.

"I plan on staying more than one year unless my situation changes and I have the opportunity to make a living for my family," he said.

But he left himself an out.

"If coaches call coach Floyd and I have an opportunity to be a lottery pick to take care of my family, then I most certainly am going to have to look at that. Right now, I'm planning on coming back next year."

Mayo met with reporters Tuesday, a day after the new players joined the rest of the team practicing for an exhibition trip to Mexico this weekend.

Mayo downplayed any connection to Simpson, who won the Heisman Trophy in the late 1960s but went on to face murder charges in the deaths of his wife and her friend.

"I just want to kind of work off my last name," Mayo said.

He is coming off a troubled senior season at Huntington, W.Va., High that included a three-game suspension for bumping a referee and a marijuana possession charge that was later dropped.

"He's not a selfish guy. People might think he's selfish, but they get it wrong," said guard Daniel Hackett, who already knew Mayo from playing on traveling teams.

"He wants to win, just like I do, so in some kind of things we match. He's been great so far and no problem during the summer. He went to class and brought kids to the weight room."

Floyd praised Mayo for earning B-pluses in two summer classes and rallying his teammates to hit the weight room for early morning workouts before classes began.

"Not once has he never not been true to his word," Floyd said. "Everything he said he was going to do, he's done. All he's ever talked about is winning. He's never talked about his shots, his minutes."

Mayo admitted to being homesick and calling his mother in Huntington four or five times a week.

"The more I call, the more I miss home," he said.

He's adjusting to getting up for early morning classes, where students' heads turn when they hear his name during roll call, and managing his time.

"It's a great academic school and that's part of the reason why I wanted to come here," Mayo said. "That's where the challenge is - trying to work really, really hard on the basketball and then wanting to be a successful student. That's the only thing that's nerve-racking."

Mayo will wear No. 32, the number he's worn since fifth grade in honor of Magic Johnson, whom he plans to talk with about achieving basketball and business success.

"That was one of my favorite players," Mayo said. "He was a well-rounded guy, teammates liked him, he was just fun to watch. You really can't beat that."

For more coverage of the USC Trojans, check out USCFootball.com.



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