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November 2, 2007

Mayo, Love hope to lead L.A. hoops revival

MORE PAC-10 PREVIEW:
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Rivals.com has selected the top 25 storylines for the 2007-08 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 3 storyline takes a look at the arrival of two potential impact freshmen in the Pac-10.

LOS ANGELES For the most part, two of the the top freshmen in college basketball say they've been left alone.

O.J. Mayo has signed an autograph or two for classmates at USC, and UCLA's Kevin Love mainly because of his size has been recognized while standing in line for a chili cheese dog at Pink's.

"But it hasn't been a problem at all," the 6-foot-10 Love said Thursday at Pac-10 basketball media day. "It's not like there's paparazzi following me around or anything."

At least not yet.

Even in the city of Bryant, Beckham and Britney, no one would be surprised if Love and Mayo became two of Los Angeles' more famous faces by the end of the college basketball season. Or shoot, maybe by the beginning.

Neither player has made a basket for his respective school, yet here they are, preparing for a magazine cover shoot this weekend. Mayo's arrival helped USC sell more season tickets in 30 minutes than it had in its history. At UCLA, Love has already cracked the starting lineup of a squad that played in the last two Final Fours.

"UCLA and USC were already very good programs," Love said. "Adding O.J. and I just gives things a little more flavor."

He smiled.

"And if Kobe has a departure," Love said, "it's going to be even bigger."

Love was referring to Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who is reportedly on the trading block after spending most of the last decade as the city's top sports celebrity. Seems outlandish to suggest a pair of 18-year-olds could assume that role if Bryant is indeed shipped elsewhere.

But Mayo and Love are unique talents.

For both players, college basketball is basically a gasoline stop on the way to the NBA. Love and Mayo are projected as top-10 picks in next spring's draft, meaning it's likely they'll be at their respective schools just one season before leaving to become instant millionaires in the pros.

Still, that's hardly expected to be a deterrent to the fans who have been longing for this kind of college star power for years.

Both physically and fundamentally, the 271-pound Love is an NBA-ready forward, a bruiser who can score both under the basket and away from it, a player polished enough to either juke through a double team or whip a flashy pass out of it.

Rivals.com Class of 2007 Top Prospects
Name Pos. School
1. Michael Beasley F Kansas State
2. Eric Gordon G Indiana
3. Derrick Rose G Memphis
4. O.J. Mayo G USC
5. Kyle Singler F Duke
6. Kevin Love F UCLA
7. Bill Walker F Kansas State
8. DeAndre Jordan C Texas A&M
9. Donte Greene F Syracuse
10. J.J. Hickson F N.C. State
Complete Class of 2007 Rivals150
"He's fun to watch," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "Kevin has a lot of desire to reach his potential, and it shows."

Mayo, a 6-5, 215-pound guard, is more of an enigma. In high school he was an honor student who scored a 29 on his ACT. But he was also suspended for fighting and was later accused of bumping a referee.

Then, when it came time to choose a college, Mayo said he picked USC because of the marketing opportunities and potential contacts he could make in Los Angeles. That hardly bothered Trojans coach Tim Floyd.

"That's why the guy is so refreshing," Floyd said. "He actually has a mind and he uses it instead of just sitting there and following the herd. He has a plan about what he wants to do with his life. He doesn't think like everyone else. This kid is more mature than any player I've ever been around at that age."

The story is that Mayo actually phoned Floyd to tell him he was interested in becoming a Trojan. Usually, of course, it's the other way around.

"I'm glad he called," Floyd deadpanned. "He's everything he was advertised to be.

"A large portion of the college basketball world is going to be paying attention to what those two guys are doing and to what our two programs are doing. More people will be staying up late at night on the East Coast to watch them play. It's good for our visibility."

Spicing up the scenario even more is that Mayo and Love know each other. The two met as eighth-graders after the championship game of a 400-team tournament in Orlando. Love scored 30 second-half points against Mayo's squad.

"But I got the win," Mayo said.

For the next four years, Love and Mayo sent each other text messages and roomed together at various all-star games and camps. Friendly as they were off the court, they were even more competitive on it.

Love said he gets revved up when he looks at UCLA's schedule and sees two games against USC. He smirked when asked if those games were "circled" on his calendar.

"Double-circled," he said.

Mayo is eager for the matchup, too.

"It'll be exciting for the city," he said. "Hopefully we can draw in younger kids who are struggling with certain problems in their lives and (make) them want to go to one of the universities. The buzz can be positive as long as you handle your business and do the right things."

At UCLA, Love has joined a squad that some pundits have picked to win the 2008 national championship. Mayo finds himself in a different situation at USC, where the Trojans lost 44 percent of their scoring thanks to the graduation of Lodrick Stewart and the defections of Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt to the NBA.

USC has plenty of young talent with players such as Mayo and Davon Jefferson. But injuries and a brutal non-conference schedule might stymie the Trojans' progress early on.

Still Mayo said his eyes are affixed on one thing.

"As a ballplayer and a competitor, I feel like anything less than a national championship would be a failure," Mayo said. "We want to turn this program into what UCLA has. We want to be able to talk about our tradition. It has to start somewhere."

Floyd shares the same vision, but he must first enhance USC's status in its own city. Mayo and, in a roundabout way, Love is the key to jumpstarting that effort.

Floyd's hope is that the USC-UCLA rivalry will one day be as talked about and anticipated as the one between North Carolina and Duke.

"Maybe I wouldn't have said that 10-12 years ago, but I'm saying it now," Floyd said. "I think (Mayo) will help in that because of his visibility. That's one of the reasons he came here: To help our program for the long haul."

Or at least for one year.

Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.



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