I trust that, like me, you’ve been enjoying Russ’ DITC throwback posts over the past couple weeks. Duly inspired, I dug into my own crates to unearth a lengthy Q&A from way back in… August, 2007.
Ok, so I didn’t have to dig very far. Regardless, I’d been eager to post the full transcript from my Q&A with OJ Mayo. The interview took place in early August in L.A., spread out over about 6 hours between three different photo shoot locations, and formed the basis for the SLAM 112 cover story that’s on newstands for another week or so. I was sufficiently happy with how the story came out, but given the length of the Q&A (about 6,700 words) and the length of the final published story (about 2,300, I think), a lot of it obviously didn’t make it into the magazine.
Two things worth noting as I re-read the transcript this week:
-OJ often uses the word “perfect” as a verb. I find this unusual.
-On a so many levels, the OJ-as-Kobe metaphor I’ve been writing/talking about since he was a high school freshman appears more accurate than ever. And no one sees it more than OJ himself.
Anyway, if you continue to be curious and/or compelled by this kid’s story, read this. I think it gives a pretty good sense of who he is and what he’s about. If you’re already sick of him (a shame, in my opinion), feel free to skip it and know that Lang’s long-threatened Dan Dickau cover story is just days away.
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SLAM: When did you get out here?
OJ: It was like, June 15? I came out like a week before school started, just to get settled into my dorm.
SLAM: You living on campus?
SLAM: You taking summer classes?
SLAM: What are you taking?
OJ: Environmental disasters, and this black cinema class with Dr. Todd Boyd. I like it. You learn a lot, exercise your mind a lot, think about things you never really think about. It’s cool.
SLAM: A lot of guys in your situation, who everyone assumes will be one-and-done, probably wouldn’t worry much about classes. But it sounds like you’re into it.
OJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There ain’t no point in just wasting time, you know what I mean? You gotta go to college, you might as well go and learn something. See what you can do, see what you can accomplish. I think it’s cool.
SLAM: Have you decided on a major?
OJ: Yeah, I’m gonna do business management and real estate investment. I gotta take some freshman courses and stuff right now.
SLAM: Everybody assumes you’re one-and-done anyway, so why bother sweating the academic details?
OJ: I don’t want to think that. I mean, that could be a goal—it could be—but you never know. You never know what type of season we may have. We might come close to winning a national championship, might wanna just go and knock it out the next year. You never know. But right now I’m just worried about learning stuff in college, the experience, being independent.
SLAM: You’ve spent most of your life in the Midwest, not really the most scenic or fast-paced places. Now you’re in the heart of L.A. How is the transition going?
OJ: It’s cool. We’re in the heart of the city, so you see everything. Like, we watched the movie Crash in Dr. Boyd’s class. That kind of gives you a look at how L.A. is, if you’ve never been here. Different nationalities, different types of people, business people, or like, skateboarders—they’re really interesting, just having their own crew and really taking it serious.
SLAM: People who don’t know any better think USC is Hollywood—but like you said, you’re in the middle of Los Angeles, it’s real down here. Did you have a sense of where you were going before you got here?
OJ: Oh yeah. I took my visit, so I knew. I knew. SC, it’s like, right around the people, you know? It’s right in the city, so I thought that was cool. I saw the opportunity to try to make a change on the basketball side, bring in some good players, make sure we play hard, practice hard, try to do it for the people. There’s a lot of USC fans who like basketball but haven’t had an opportunity to root for us.
SLAM: What kind of shape is your game in right now?
OJ: I’m playing good right now. I’m playing a lot of games, working on weaknesses while I’m playing. I’m working on handling the ball a lot more, making better decisions, being efficient as far as shooting the ball, running the team—little things that I can do, but I need to work on.
SLAM: Are you thinking long-term, for this year and beyond, that you need to focus on your point guard skills?
OJ: I can do both, but I think it’d be good to play point guard, perfect it.
SLAM: What have the coaches told you they expect from you?
OJ: Being a point guard, coming in and being a leader. My main thing, I just want to come in and perfect winning.
SLAM: With the guys SC has coming back, feel like you’ve got the right kind of complementary guys around you?
OJ: Yeah, yeah. I think we’ve got the right pieces. I think we just need to come in, work hard, focus, have everybody on the same page.
SLAM: The knock on you personally in high school was people saying you stopped getting better—they’d seen you so much when you were so good, so young, it’s like a blessing and a curse. Was there a sense of not being motivated anymore, or not having enough good comp at the high school level?
OJ: I think it was like the same old stuff. The scouting service is at this event, it’s the same old drills, same old thing. And once you’ve been doing it for three or four years, it’s like, “Well, what else is new? Why isn’t this kid getting better?”
SLAM: Being out here this summer, you’ve had a chance to break that, getting into some of the runs with the college and NBA guys. Is that exciting for you?
OJ: Yeah. For me, it’s a good opportunity to meet new guys, learn some things from them.
SLAM: Who have you run with out here, guys you’ve really gotten up to run with?
OJ: This summer, probably Kobe. Everyone else, it’s a pleasure to learn things from them, playing against them, see where you at, but with Kobe…
SLAM: It’s kind of a different level, right?
SLAM: How many times have you run with him?
OJ: Twice so far.
SLAM: The quality of the runs this summer, and building up to college comp, you’ve gotta be really excited about the chance to test your game.
OJ: Oh, yeah, I’m real excited, real excited. It’s something new, you know what I mean? I’ve never experienced college, being a college player, day-in and day-out working, going to class, so it’s something new. It’s exciting.
SLAM: You and Kevin Love arriving at the same time, rival schools, kind of putting L.A. front and center on the college hoops seen. Is that a motivator for you?
OJ: I’m self-motivated anyway, whether he came out here or not. But it most definitely makes it interesting. I’ve been knowing him since the eighth grade, I’ve watched him grow, he’s watched me grow, we’re getting better as players, we’re cool as friends. But I’m self-motivated. I gotta take care of my family. That’s enough motivation.
SLAM: What about you and Bill (Walker)?
OJ: We talk like, twice a week. He’s doing good.
SLAM: Would it still be cool for you guys to try and play together at some point?
OJ: Yeah, but, we’re both just trying to get into a position to take care of our families. We’re both excited to get to the NBA.
SLAM: Looking ahead—you come out, have a great freshman season, put yourself in a position to be a top-five pick next summer. Is that the best-case scenario for you right now?
OJ: I think the best thing is to go number one. (laughs) Yeah. I think that’s the best thing, but you know, different teams need different pieces or whatever, so that’s what it’s come to now. But yeah, I think so.
SLAM: So what do you need to do between now and then to put yourself in a position where it’d be hard for any team NOT to take you?
OJ: I think, just perfect winning. You can get some players, maybe they have talent out of this world, but you know, they don’t really care about winning. This is what I do. Basketball is what I do, it’s not just something just to get paid off of, something just to fill my time—you know, “I’m tall, this is what they want me to do.” This is what I’ve chosen to do. This is what I do, so if they get me, they’re getting a winner. I’m gonna work hard, whatever I’m supposed to do, just make sure we winning.
SLAM: A lot of this stuff sounds very Kobe-like. You feel like you have some of that same kind of fire he has?
OJ: Yeah, I got all of that.
SLAM: On his level? Because you know a lot of people see him as the only real killer in the League right now.
OJ: Yeah. It’s just, whatever comes before you, you want to outdo it, be better than that. Just light the fire.
SLAM: I don’t want to put too much on this, but as far as his game and having that fire, is he kind of the main role model for you as a player?
OJ: I just think he takes his job serious. It’s not something just to be paid off of, be in magazines, you know, it’s serious. You step out on the court, it’s business. Like, “I’m here to show you that this is what I do, and I’m the best.”
SLAM: Knowing that’s what drives him, what’s your take on the stuff he’s said this summer?
OJ: He just wants some guys… like you said, he’s a real killer, he just wants some killers on his team to help him, not guys who are just happy to be a part of the Laker organization, or just being a part of the NBA. He wants some players who want to win. You can’t fault that.
SLAM: So where do you see yourself in five years? Cornerstone of a winning team?
OJ: Hopefully I can have that in three years (laughs). In five years? I want to be on top of the NBA.
SLAM: Switching gears. One of the reasons I talked to LeBron for this story is because you guys have those parallels in your careers so far, dealing with a lot of hype and negativity before you even get out of high school. How do you feel you’ve dealt with all that?
OJ: I don’t know… As you get older and learn, it’s like you said, I guess some people get tired of the same old story. “He started in the seventh grade,” this that and the other. So, lately, for me, if I get any attention, it’s negative ’cause I did somethin’ wrong. They don’t want to talk about what’s done right—getting a 29 on my ACT, coming here taking classes, not missing classes, getting good grades. They don’t want to talk about stuff like that. But as soon as I do something crazy or boneheaded, make a bad decision, then that’s a big story. But that’s cool.
SLAM: You acknowledge that you have set yourself up for some of this, though — bonehead decisions, you said it yourself.
OJ: Yeah… I mean, I don’t know. Like, in my situation, I don’t got nobody putting me and my family up in the suburbs, some suburban school out of the way of the city. I’m in the inner-city, you know, right where things is going on. So what do you want me to do about that, you know? I can’t help that. If I accept some money, or accept something to help the family, then you’re dealing with the rules about amateurism, and I wouldn’t be here playing ball for SC. So you gotta look at it. Certain people got certain things going on—single parent home, my mom living in the neighborhood, everything ain’t all good, you know? I got friends that’s brought up different, you know, different situations, a town where there’s not a lot of jobs, a lot of things for kids to get out and get out the way. They were my friends from Day 1, before I was coming to SC and doing photo shoots for SLAM. It’s a point where you’ve gotta set yourself apart, but where I was at, it’s so small, there’s nowhere really to go.
SLAM: I assume it seemed like a good idea to get away from Huntington for a while, get away from some of those negative influences? Looking back, do you think that was still for the best?
OJ: Uh… yeah, I think some good things came out of it. But like you said, you get into one fight in school—I don’t know if you ever got into a fight in school—but like you said, some things happen you can’t take back, you learn from your mistakes. I was a kid, I made a mistake, what you want me to do about it, you know? Keep bringing it up? What’s that do?
SLAM: What was it like for you last year, being back home in Huntington?
OJ: I think I probably gave a lot of people hope. A lot of people there, it’s like the same old thing: You graduate from high school, you work at a spot where you can flip a few burgers, or you don’t. Everybody’s kind of in, like, survival mode. So I think I gave a lot of those kids the opportunity to say, “Man, if I get ahold of a sport, or whatever I like to do, if I at least take it seriously, maybe something can happen.”
SLAM: How do people in Huntington see you? Is it support, or hate, or a little of both?
OJ: I think I had a lot of support. Not very many people come out of West Virginia and do real big things. You know, Jerry West, Randy Moss, Jason Williams, Hal Greer, but if you come from Huntington, that’s it, you know. There’s nothing going on. It’s all negative, all bad things. There’s very small good things, but it’s not really helping the people have as much, you know what I mean? Like, if anything’s good going on, it’s going toward people who already have a set life. So me moving back to where I started from, having nothing, and going back and playing ball, working out, just walking up and down the neighborhood, seeing different little kids, I think it was good. I think I had a lot of people rooting for me.
SLAM: But there was some negativity from other towns, rivals schools.
OJ: Yeah, but at the same time, they did that because they were supposed to. But it’s still West Virginia. They still were happy, that I had the opportunity to come back and play in front of the state where I was from.
SLAM: So overall, going back home was a good thing?
OJ: Yeah, yeah. I think it was the best thing, in all my high school years.
SLAM: Is your mom moving out here while you’re in school?
OJ: Nah, she’s got my brothers and sisters in school. She’s got a job out there.
SLAM: So the goal for you is to be able, once you make it to the League, to take your family out of there?
OJ: Yeah, that’s probably my number one priority.
SLAM: Can you talk about your relationship with your family? Moving to Ohio, I think people have a sense that you were almost estranged from your whole family. You’re still close, right?
SLAM: Is your father involved as well?
OJ: It’s mostly my mom. He’s in and out of jail. He’s cool, though. He’s my dad, you only got one dad, so I try to keep some kind of relationship there.
SLAM: You and LeBron had so many similarities in your careers — the negativity and the hype, people who’ve never met you assuming the worst about you, media types who’ve never met you calling you out on national TV.
OJ: I think the thing about LeBron, he was in a much better situation, because once he came through his senior year, everyone came from behind close doors, like, “I got this for you, I got this for you.” For him, it’s like, “Get it! I’m in the League next year!” But as far as me, we grew up in the same situation, single-parent homes, you know, me and my family can’t do anything like that. I gotta stay in college, get through that. And it’s hard. Like I told you, it would’ve been easy for us, like, OK, we can roll with you guys, put us up in this house, whatever, you know—things that go on. But my mom, she’s like, “No, we’re not part of that. We’re gonna roll up our sleeves, go out and get it. We’re gonna work.” And like I said, this is my job, this is what I do.
SLAM: What’s your mom do?
OJ: She’s like, a nurse’s assistant. She’s on her feet all day, working 8 to 6, come home, got three kids living in that household, you know, trying to make it happen, trying to make sure we can eat, make sure we get clothes.
SLAM: And there’s plenty of people who will step in and “help out.”
OJ: Yeah, but it’s like you said, if you break the rules… I think a lot of people got mixed up in like, being a young basketball player, got a lot of notoriety or whatever, I guess they think you would be rich (laughs.) Like there should be no reason why you get in trouble, you should be able to get everything you want. But in our case, it wasn’t nearly like that.
SLAM: LeBron went through so much of the same stuff. What kind of things do you guys talk about? What does he tell you?
OJ: Just like, “Stay focused. You control your own destiny. Stay hungry.” Things like that. We don’t really talk about basketball ’cause, think about it, all day, all you talk about is basketball—with people you know, people you don’t know. So we just talk about video games, something different.
SLAM: Are there other guys you’re getting advice from?
OJ: It’s mostly the same thing—keep working hard, stay focused. I talk to Kobe, and it’s “keep the hunger.” Like I said, some people just play the game for the paycheck, and some people play because they’re athletic and they’ve been pushed that way. It doesn’t mean they really love to play basketball. But like I said, this is what I want to do. This is something I want to master. I want to be one of the top 10 players ever to play the game.
SLAM: You’ve really worn a target the last few years, caught hate from all different directions. What’s that been like to deal with, day to day?
OJ: I don’t know. At times, all the hate and negative and all that, it turned into motivation. At one time, I felt like, Man, I can’t get motivated, it’s boring, I need some motivation. You know what I mean? So all that hate, all the negatives, turned into motivation.
SLAM: It’s one thing when it’s scouts who’ve just gotten sick of seeing you for four or five years. But when it’s media guys who’ve never even seen you in person, let alone met you…
OJ: Nah, they’re just doing their jobs. I’ve put myself in some bad situations, but at the same time, where I was was a bad situation, you know? But there’s nothing I could do about it. I was born where I was from. That’s part of my reason for wanting to go to school for business management and real estate investment—I can give people a way out, and it’s not the streets, and it’s not, you know, you gotta move and go to a bigger city for opportunity. I probably could name thousands of people in that city who’ve never really been outside (Huntington), who’ve never even seen a big city, never seen a skyscraper outside of TV. You know what I mean? So that’s why my whole plan is, you know, real estate investment. I got a blueprint laid out.
SLAM: This goes beyond just getting paid.
OJ: Yeah. Like a lot of people are like, “Why USC?” Well, you gotta go somewhere to learn, you know what I mean? And what better place to learn about than L.A.? Out here, a lot of people do things in real estate, in business. There’s a lot going on outside just basketball and the fast life, Hollywood and movies and stuff. There’s a lot of people that make things happen out here.
SLAM: And you want to take what you learn here, be able to go back to Huntington and make a difference.
OJ: Yeah, yeah. That’s my main thing. You know, I’m telling you, you go there, there’s really no opportunity. Nothing. There’s nothing to do there outside of, if you’re gonna hustle, you’re gonna hustle. If you’re gonna gangbang, you’re gonna gangbang. Other than that, there’s nothing else to do. If you’re playing sports, that’s your way out, off the streets or whatever. It’s a lot of single-parent homes, father’s either in jail, smoked out, or trying to hustle, trying to make a living. So, it’s not a good situation. There’s really nowhere there for a high school kid to even work, unless you want to go to McDonald’s and flip burgers, or work a cash register. There’s nothing where young people get together and work. There’s a lot of things that need to be done there, that I believe I can help make a change.
SLAM: How long have you been thinking this way—beyond just getting out for you and your family, but really thinking about making an impact on the community?
OJ: I was in Cincinnati, you know, you see stuff there. I’ve traveled, seen a lot of things, a lot of different places I never would’ve gotten the opportunity to see unless I played basketball. So when I went back home for my senior year, a lot of people were like—people from the outside, not people from the city, but writers and stuff—were like, ‘Why do you hang with these guys?’ And I didn’t know. I hadn’t been here. I mean, you kind of know, but you really don’t know. You don’t know how deep they are into the game. Things have changed, and I came back, they’re the only guys I know. They were on my midget league football team, played all-star baseball together. So I didn’t know. We still cool. When we talk, it’s not all basketball, you know it’s life—How your mom doing? How’s your brother? You know, then you catch yourself on the wrong street, they’re raiding a house next door to my friend’s house, and bam—you get a headline news story. It wasn’t even mine, I didn’t have nothing to do with it, but just that quick, I got that rap. Next year or whenever, when I’m in the draft room, that’s gonna come up. It’s something that’s going to be over my head for the rest of my life.
SLAM: People will get past it eventually, as long as you don’t give them any more reasons to bring it up.
OJ: I hope so. It’s all the point of getting older, you know, maturing, making better decisions, surrounding yourself with better people.
SLAM: Was it a case of most of the guys you came up with being involved in things they shouldn’t have?
OJ: Like I said, everyone’s not playing basketball. Everyone doesn’t have opportunities to move out of that area, pursue a career, whatever you want to call it. Some people are stuck here, you know? Same old things are still going on. There’s no way out. The high school system is targeted a certain way, and they’re trying to get rid of you, get you out of the school—you know, you’re a nuisance. It’s like, “If I don’t have a high school diploma, you know, what am I going to do? I can’t get a job nowhere. I gotta put clothes on my back. I gotta eat. My mom, she’s on her job, my dad, I ain’t seen him in 10 years.” So, what else, you know what I mean?
SLAM: And you had a lot of friends in that situation.
SLAM: And you feel like, if not for basketball, you easily could’ve ended up in the same situation?
OJ: Maybe, but, my mom, she’s a little stronger. She’s tried her best, to make sure we were in the right direction, so that’s why I thank God for her everyday. But like I said, think about it: That was just a small mistake, just being in a car, a bust gone bad or whatever, but think about, if I’d been there, not playing basketball, just day to day, doing things like that. After a while, very easily, you could be in a detention center somewhere, and you have a record that quick, at a young age, for the rest of your life.
SLAM: So you’re saying it was just wrong place, wrong time.
SLAM: Did the cops in this case know who you were right away?
OJ: Yeah, yeah.
SLAM: Did that help or hurt your chances?
OJ: It was kind of like, they knew who I was, then they found what was in the car, in the back seat. I was sitting in the front seat. They were like, “Oh, maybe we’re on to something,” you know what I mean? But it’s cool. They were just doing their job.
SLAM: Talk about your relationship with Rodney Guillory. For starters, people assume you only came out here because of him.
OJ: When people say that, I take it as an insult, like I have no mind, you know what I mean?
SLAM: Of course, but these are people who aren’t giving you any credit in the first place.
OJ: Yeah. I play basketball, but I am a person. I do think things through.
SLAM: So explain how you and Rodney linked up in the first place, and why you feel comfortable with him playing a role in your future.
OJ: He’s just like a mentor, you know? Like I said, my father in and out of jail, my mom is working, she really don’t got time to sit back and—she does think things through for me, but I want to take some of that off of her, you know, ’cause this gets real stressful. Rodney, he’s from L.A., he knows about this game. Like you said, he’s been in an incident where he’s messed up before, and just because he’s messed up doesn’t mean he’s not a good guy. You know, he messed up trying to help some kids. You know, rules are rules, and there’s so many rules out there, you could break some not even knowing that you are, just trying to help someone. So from that standpoint, it’s an opportunity. I want to give people an opportunity. I feel like I can feel people out, feel a vibe from them, and I feel like in my best interests, it’s good to have them around, just to help me out in day-to-day life situations. At one point I was in Cincinnati, where I almost felt like I was on my own. You know, I met him my seventh, going into my eighth grade year at ABCD, he was introduced through my grandfather, and we’d just talk on the phone, talk about my game…
SLAM: Dwain introduced you guys?
OJ: Uh-huh. Rodney would give me certain DVDs on different point guards, different players in the League, just try to help analyze my game and get me better. I guess people think you know, you’re good, you must got a workout guy, you must have people, but in my situation, it wasn’t like that. Everyone thought that, so no one really reached out and tried to give me a hand on my game. Like, “I know he’s good, you know, he’s got people doing that.” So, from there, we got closer, grew closer as far as a mentor relationship, and I don’t know, I guess we’re still friends, still have a good relationship.
SLAM: People assume that his motives are selfish, that he’s only in it for the payday down the road. Did it take a long time for you to get past that possibility?
OJ: Yeah, yeah, of course. Always. But like I said, I’m human. You get certain vibes from different people, and like I said, I’ve been through some negative things, things that happened that, maybe, at the end of, it’s like, “This kid’s probably not going to make it through.” You know, “This kid’s bad.” You know, I don’t know what people think, just, that’s what I feel. And he was still there, like, “It’ll be alright, you know, it’s good.” You hear what I’m sayin’? Just mentoring me through different problems. I didn’t have a father, I moved away from my mom, my grandfather was doing his thing, going back and forth to West Virginia making sure our traveling team was good, you get what I’m saying? So I’m growing up fast, I’m 15, 16, almost handling things on my own. So, like I said, Rodney, he’s a good guy. I got a lot of trust in him, I think he’ll be able to make the right decisions. I don’t think he’ll do anything stupid, that could hurt me or anything.
SLAM: Yeah—I guess even if Rodney was only in it for the money, it’s still in his best interests that you succeed, become a number one draft pick and make as much money as possible, right?
OJ: And also, like, who else would I have around me? Just, for example—what, I’m supposed to just do it on my own? Or, who? If I have my friends from my neighborhood? You know, “They’re thugs, you got a posse.” (laughs) Like a rap crew or something. And my family, you know, you got a father in and out of jail, and my mom, you know, she works hard, got other kids to raise, uncles is on or off drugs. And I know it’s hard, but sometimes your family can be your worst enemy almost, you know what I’m saying? Like, a lot of times, they can have their own motives? And I really don’t want to put my family in that type of situation where, I just hate ’em, I don’t like ’em no more because they messed me over, you know what I mean? So I’ll take my opportunity to help feed my family, and once I’m good and successful, give them the opportunity to come up off that, help ’em out, you know, but other than that, like I said, I’m kinda on the grind. Working out, going to school, trying to better myself mentally or physically, working out, lifting weights. You know, one day you become grown, you can’t be a puppet all your life (laughs), you know what I mean? You know, “Go here, play in this event, go here, play in this event.” I took charge of that, my junior year, you know, it’s not all about that anymore. You can get lost in this circus, shoe-game, you can get lost in it if you let it take you like that.
SLAM: A lot of what you’re saying seems to reflect on you and Dwain. For a long time, all we heard was “Dwain runs the show.” Can you explain what happened there?
OJ: He took me under his wing…
SLAM: Now, he’s not your biological grandfather…
OJ: Yeah, but he helped raise my dad. When my dad’s parents were struggling… so Dwain, yeah, he done a heck of a job. He taught me a lot about staying mentally strong, taught me to evaluate good verses bad, which decisions, right and wrong, and if you live by those standards you should be successful. There’s no in between. It’s either right or wrong. You know, he taught me a lot of stuff. So, after a while, Dwain, he’s a great coach and a great father figure, but sometimes you can’t be so hard on different people, they don’t know how to take it, as far as coaches, media… just giving people an opportunity to know me.
SLAM: Media-wise, he wanted to shut everything down.
OJ: Yeah, he shut it down, so it makes it like, we were kinda “big-time,” too big for ourselves. And I’m like, I’m approachable. I’m totally the opposite of what you guys think. It’s cool to sit down and talk, let’s get a story, you know, whatever you want to do.
SLAM: Do you think his intentions were good, that he was basically trying to protect you?
OJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s what I’m saying. He did a great job. He didn’t do anything bad. But after a while, you gotta release from that. You gotta give another side, let ’em know that you are approachable, you can talk to ’em, there’s nothing wrong, you know. But when you hold back for so long, people are like, “Is something wrong here? What’s going on?”
SLAM: So at this point, how do you describe your relationship with Dwain?
OJ: Um… We’re not really on speaking terms. But it’s cool. It’s alright, though. He brought me into this game, as far as basketball and stuff, so I know he’s rooting for me. He’s not wishing me to fail. But, you know, sometimes it was just getting so serious, as far as like, “I want you to go to one college,” but I thought all your life, when you work out hard, you play hard, you practice hard, you get the opportunity to pick whatever school you want to go to. You know, why does it get narrowed down to this school and that school? And without me even talking to the college coach, the university, anything, like, what’s going on, you know what I mean.
SLAM: Everybody had that pegged as Cincinnati and Huggins.
OJ: Right. And that was cool, because I liked Cincinnati and Huggins. I liked the university, I liked Cincinnati and I liked Huggins, so it all made sense. But you know, once he had his issues and he had to move on, it was time to make a change.
SLAM: So at some point, you were definitely headed to Cincinnati.
OJ: Yeah, yeah. Me and Bill were definitely headed to Cincinnati. That’s where we wanted to go. But over five years, job changes…
SLAM: So your recruiting was opened up, and then it got crazy because there was no recruiting. You flipped the script.
OJ: Yeah, me being a young man, hanging with a lot of older people, you don’t want to keep toying with people, you know what I mean? What’s the point of having 10 or 15 college coaches calling you, knocking on your door, sending text messages when you’re not interested? You’re wasting their time. You’re cheating them, and you’re cheating another kid who needs that opportunity, you know what I mean? I heard about Coach Floyd, you know, he’s a good coach—
SLAM: Who did you heard about him from?
OJ: Nah, I looked up USC, you know, because I didn’t want to go to like a real dominant college with a lot of tradition. You know, I wanted to start something new. And once I looked at USC, and just being in L.A., having an opportunity to navigate, you know, get out, get off the East Coast, stay on the West Coast, go to different cities on the West Coast and play ball, that was something. And then looking at USC, and looking up Coach Floyd, I read about his past, you know, taking the Bulls job once Jordan and Pippen left, and taking the New Orleans job when they had switched cities—he took a lot of jobs that no one really wanted, and he was successful in a way. He didn’t win a championship, but he won ballgames with limited (resources). So I think it’s a good look. Team went to the Sweet 16 last year, had a good team—I was hoping some players would stay, but you know, they had to better themselves and their families.
SLAM: Bringing that back to Rodney—again, that’s where people assume he’s calling the shots, because he’s got your ear and now you’re going to USC, which didn’t even recruit you.
OJ: It wasn’t none of the decision. He didn’t want me to come here (laughs). He was like, “Why would you go to SC? That’s a football school,” this and that. You know, people gonna think what they want to think. If I’d have went anywhere, there’d have been some type of, “He went there for this,” you know what I mean? So, I block all that out. I don’t care nothin’ about none of that. I went there because, like I said, it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity… like, basketball’s cool, and that’s what I want to do, and I want to become great. But after you play basketball, you gotta do somethin’, you know what I mean? A lot of people who went to SC who didn’t play ball, who do films, lawyers and doctors, a lot of people who make a change in the world today went to SC. So I’m all about the opportunity, just want to meet new people.
SLAM: Whenever people ask me about you, I tell them you’re one of the most personable kids I’ve ever dealt with on this level—like, you not only answer questions, but you’ll actually ask questions, engage in conversation, which is really rare.
OJ: You only got one life. You know, what’s the average time you live on earth? Like 60, 65 years, and that’s pretty good, you know? So basketball’s gonna take up half of it, and the other half, I’d like to be successful also. My younger brother’s out here right now, and I was talking to him, and I’m like, “We’re the only two Mayos left.” As far as, everyone else is women, if they get married, their name would change over, and it’s all about, you want to be remembered, you know? And you don’t want to be remembered for negative things—“He’s incarcerated, in jail for 30 years,” or “He died doing this.” So, you know, it’s all about, Let’s put some businesses out here, make sure that we’re remembered.
SLAM: You and your brother talk about this stuff?
OJ: Mm-hmm. Just, you know, doing the right thing.
SLAM: So again, best-case scenario, this time next year, you’re in training camp, you’ve been in the number one pick, you’ve won a national championship—you say you’re still planning on finishing up your degree.
OJ: Yeah, it’s another challenge of life. The NBA is good. It gives you an opportunity to take care of your family, take care of yourself, get things you’ve always wanted, compete, and for me, hopefully, being named one of the 50 players, top 10 players to ever play—you know, “I’d take him to start my team,” barbershop talk, corner talk. So from that standpoint, I’ve always had a dream, a vision, a goal, to be mentioned in that category with Jordan, Magic, Bird, Isiah. But then after that, then what? What is it? You can live off that, that’s good, but I want to be successful in other areas.
SLAM: Anything that I haven’t asked that you want to get off your chest, about yourself and your situation?
OJ: Nah, I just want young kids to read it. Obviously, SLAM, a lot of young kids like to read it, high school kids. I just want to let them know, if you got a dream, it’s cool to dream big things, because it can happen. Nothing’s really impossible anymore. As long as you work hard, you stay focused, and you know that, “This is what I wanna do, and I’m gonna do it, I don’t care, nothing’s gonna hold me back.” I just want people to know that it’s OK to dream big, make things happen. I was in a situation that a lot of kids was, like, “Man, there’s almost no way out, this is all you can do?” I’ve been through it—I’ve been through a father in jail, single-parent mom, making sure we have a meal tonight, but what are we gonna eat Friday, though? I’ve been there, and I never want to be in that situation when I have kids. No one does. And I love my mom to death, she’s strong-willed, she wants us to be successful, and I always told her, ever since I was little, that I want to go to the NBA so I can buy her a house and a car, you know what I mean?