Preseason Tournament Wrapup II : OJ’s Mayo – Top Dog/Underdog

Let’s imagine you’re Jermaine Jackson. Of the Gary, Indiana Jacksons, not the former NBA journeyman. You’re 10, you play bass, you sing for your brothers’ band. You have a nice voice, better than about 95% of the rest of humanity. All in all, you feel pretty lucky. Then along comes your little brother Michael, thin, a little girly, but with the voice of a thousand androgynous angels. All of a sudden you’re behind him, playing bass and getting thrown an occasional backup vocals bone. You start to feel neglected; you notice that dad spends more time berating Michael than the rest of you. Soon the band breaks up and you go your separate ways. Sure, you do ok, but mostly your life revolves around autograph sessions at The Wherehouse and occasional roles in “The Facts Of Life”. Meanwhile, Michael has sold so many albums that Tibetan sherpas know his name and is so damn rich he lawyers his way out of more felonies than any black man since O.J. Simpson.  

So what does this have to do with anything besides the fact that Joe Jackson raised the biggest family of freaks this side of “The Hills Have mcmahon.jpgEyes”? Well now let’s imagine that you’re in the 95th percentile of college basketball players, the top dog on a major D1 squad, a school like Memphis, UCLA, Indiana, a team that has now brought in a stud freshman, some punk kid who immediately usurps your status as top dog. What then? Do you stand aside, let the kid take over and try to complement him, do you disappear under his shadow, or do you wage a futile battle against the inevitable tide of second banana status?  

Obviously the first scenario is ideal, and we’ve seen it happen already with UCLA and Memphis, where their freshman phenoms are living up to the billing while the upperclassmen continue to play well. In Indiana and NC State, we’ve occasionally seen a glimpse of the second scenario. Eric Gordon has been flat-out awesome while pre-season Big 10 Player of the Year candidate D.J. White has struggled at times. NC State (watch out for this team, by the way) has one of the best freshmen not to have appeared on a magazine cover, J.J. Hickson, a beast in the paint who thus far seems to have pushed Brandon Costner out of the low block, where he has at times excelled (21 points and 3-4 from 3 against South Carolina) but at times has looked utterly lost (the Old Spice final against Villanova). As for Kansas State, they seem to be running the seldom seen offensive Box and 1 with Michael Beasley, though we’ll reserve judgement on this so far awful-looking team until Bill Walker is right. 

And then there’s USC. Having as many helpings of OJ Mayo as we did pumpkin pie and Slivovitz (family tradition) over the holiday weekend, one can’t help but be impressed. Even at this point of the season it’s apparent to everyone that Mayo is USC’s best player. Well, apparent to everyone but Daniel Hackett. Team janbrady.jpgchemistry in general may be an issue for the Trojans, at times you wonder if anybody on this team even likes each other, but it’s a lot tougher to tell that stuff live than on TV (Of course, coach Tim Floyd not starting Mayo and Taj Gibson in the Anaheim Classic final “to foster a sense of team unity” speaks volumes.) What is clear even watching them on TV, however, is that Daniel Hackett is not happy about the OJ Mayo era. Pouting at mid-court after Mayo had the audacity to take a big shot against Miami of Ohio wasn’t exactly a study in subtly.  What’s also starting to come into focus is that little preseason “accident” (see 11/18 post) Mayo and Hackett had. To paraphrase Chris Rock, I’m not saying OJ Mayo should have clocked Daniel Hackett in the jaw, but I understand. 

What else we noticed in Anaheim :

  • Want another example of how much the Trojans don’t seem to like each other? In the final against Southern Illinois, Mayo ran into a crushing screen while pressuring the ball in the backcourt. Everyone could see it coming, the players, the 12 fans in attendance, anyone watching at home. Yet apparently none of Mayo’s teammates felt the urge to tell him it was coming. Guess they didn’t want to spoil the surprise.
  • Speaking of the “fans” in attendance, we’re guessing that tournaments like Anaheim are created simply for the TV revenue, because judging from the look of things the gate wouldn’t pay for a single day of OJ Mayo’s salary, I mean education.
  • Southern Illinois is at the same weird stage of program evolution that Gonzaga was a few years ago. They’re no longer going to sneak up on someone, but they’re not quite one of the big boys. They shoot well enough and play a bruising style that can piss off a lot of teams and throw them off their game, but a squad like USC, athletic at all positions, is exactly the kind of team that’s going to give Southern Illinois problems in the Tournament.
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