LOS ANGELES (AP) -O.J. Mayo is making a stopover on his way to the NBA. Thanks to the rule that keeps high school seniors from jumping directly to the league, Mayo is detouring to Southern California.
The 18th-ranked Trojans are thrilled to have the 6-foot-5 guard who's been a celeb since he emerged as a junior high star in West Virginia.
Mayo's journey from the mountains of his home state to celebrity-studded Los Angeles was unusual. Coach Tim Floyd didn't make umpteen recruiting trips and calls to land Mayo. Instead, the teenager hand-picked the Trojans.
Mayo phoned Floyd to say he'd like to play basketball at the school best known for its national championship football teams. He wanted to market himself in a major city and help build an also-ran program into something special.
``He didn't want to be the next guy at Duke or Carolina or Kentucky or Kansas,'' Floyd said.
At first, Floyd was highly skeptical.
``When he called I said, `This guy has either got greater vision and is more mature than any kid his age that I've ever recruited or he's wacky and he'll change his mind tomorrow and again the next day and again the next day and there's no way this will happen,''' the coach recalled.
Mayo again surprised Floyd when he didn't require the usual adulation coaches are forced to shower on the best players in order to sign them. Floyd refers to it as the kiss 'em, coddle 'em, hug 'em, love 'em and text 'em routine.
``There was none of that. That's why the guy is so refreshing,'' the coach said. ``He's got a lawyer's mentality. He's very inquisitive. He doesn't sit there and just follow the herd.''
Before playing his first regular-season game, the Mayo effect has been felt. The Trojans sold 7,500 season ticket packages, with more bought in the first 30 minutes than ever before.
Mayo comes into college with a reputation that involves more than his stellar talent as a point guard. He had 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.
``I've most definitely learned from my mistakes,'' he said. ``I believe I know right from wrong. As long as I continue to try to make the right decisions, I should be good.''
Mayo is on his own in Los Angeles. His mother Alisha Mayo works as a nursing assistant in Huntington and won't be able to attend many games. His father Kenny Ziegler has been in and out of prison, and Mayo's relationship with him has been inconsistent.
``I thank him for having me,'' he said.
Mayo says he doesn't have an entourage. He lived by himself in a small apartment while attending his early years of high school in Cincinnati.
``He's not homesick like the rest of them,'' Floyd said. ``He's got a mind of his own and that's why he can lead as a freshman.''
Floyd praised Mayo for attending classes, arriving to practice on time and being respectful and consistent in his actions.
``If he's like every other freshman, sooner or later there'll be a problem,'' the coach said. ``But so far, he's been terrific.''
Mayo already thinks like a professional. He plans to major in business management, with the goal of getting into real estate development like his idol Magic Johnson.
He'll wear 32, the number he's worn since fifth grade in honor of Johnson. It's also the same number O.J. Simpson wore as a star running back at USC 40 years ago.
Mayo comes along at the same time Kevin Love of Lake Oswego, Ore., has taken up residence across town as UCLA's standout freshman, adding spice to a rivalry that has always been heated.
Both Mayo and Love mean everything to their respective programs, yet they are different.
Mayo will be something of a one-man show for the Trojans, who lost Nick Young, Lodrick Stewart and Gabe Pruitt. Those three combined for nearly 44 points a game last season. Mayo will control the play of his team as an immediate starter.
Love gives the second-ranked Bruins a big-time post player who can throw his 260-pound body around under the basket. He'll complement an already strong supporting cast of upper classmen that reached the Final Four the last two seasons.
Mayo and Love have been good friends since eighth grade, when Mayo's traveling team beat Love's for a national championship. Mayo recalled Love scored 30 points in the second half of that game. What did Mayo have?
``A win,'' he said, grinning.
They reunited recently at Pac-10 media day after not being in touch since arriving on their respective campuses.
``I told him don't let the media pull us apart because it's a big rivalry,'' Mayo said. ``We're just on missions now.''
As a high school sophomore, Mayo told Love that he wanted to play at USC. ``He's a great kid,'' Love said, ``and he's going to succeed.''
Mayo's tattoos tell his story. The words ``sacrifice'' and ``dedication'' are hidden under his arms. King Kong is pictured on the back of his arms. ``I'd like that to be my motto, I'm King Kong of the court,'' he said.
His right arm reveals his childhood nickname ``Juice Monster.'' On his left arm are two skulls with the words ``bad times, good times.''
``I won't really feel like times are great until I've won a championship in college basketball and the NBA,'' he said.

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