Tuesday, May 13, 2008

O.J. Mayo: The rise or fall of USC?

A lot has been written about ESPN's report of O.J. Mayo accepting gifts or cash, or gifts and cash, or just gifts.

The biggest question surrounding this story was not if, but when. Several people I talked to even months before Mayo's arrival at USC believed that Southern Cal coach Tim Floyd was either directly involved in player "incentives" or simply turned his back while the impropriety was taking place.

Let's see where this story goes, but I think we all have a good idea how it's going to turn out.

In the meantime, consider this ...

Of the 29 Trojans who went on to play in the NBA, the three best -- Gus Williams, Paul Westphal and Bill Sharman -- all entered the pro ranks before the mid-1970s had passed. USC's most notable player in the past 30 years was Harold Miner, aka "Baby Jordan," who followed three spectacular college seasons with four unspectacular NBA seasons. By 1996 he was gone for good.

In a nutshell, USC has zero basketball tradition.

In Floyd, it has a kinda geeky, kinda nondescript head coach, who washed out of the NBA after the equivalent of four seasons and .280 winning percentage, and whose greatest collegiate success took place at Iowa State.

And, yet, Mayo, widely considered the No. 1 college recruit in the country in 2007, decided that USC was the best fit for him. Never mind that Mayo is from Huntington, W.V. Never mind that he could have played for Duke, or Florida, or Kentucky, or North Carolina, or Kansas, or any of the other big-time powers.

USC. It's always been in Los Angeles, where the benefits are many and obvious. But none of that has ever before lured a top recruit capable of making the Trojans an elite program.

Mayo to USC? It just doesn't add up. It's something that one of many TV crime dramas could neatly unravel and tie back into a bow in a tidy 60 minutes (commercials included).

And now for 2008 Floyd has signed Demar DeRozan, another top-10 recruit (at least he's from Los Angeles). Three players in the class of 2009's top-10, meanwhile, are also considering USC.

Maybe Floyd is taking the Trojans to greater heights.

Or maybe he's going to drag them down with him.