Mayo debuts to rave review

O.J. Mayo’s new basketball life was less than five minutes old when someone inside a library-quiet Cox Pavilion tried to distract him at the foul line.

“Overrated!” the voice in the crowd yelled as the former Southern California standout guard prepared to shoot.

Must have been a UCLA fan.

Mayo calmly knocked down the free throw.

A minute later, he soared to finish off a Mike Conley alley-oop pass with a dunk. Shortly before halftime, the 6-foot-5-inch Mayo stole the ball, dribbled the length of the floor and slammed over 6-11 Hilton Armstrong, bringing the crowd to its feet.

The No. 3 pick in last month’s NBA Draft, Mayo finished with 15 points, five assists and three rebounds in the Memphis Grizzlies’ 88-75 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on the first day of the NBA Summer League.

Even Mayo’s nine turnovers couldn’t wipe the smile off the faces of Grizzlies executives as the rookie guard showed what the future could be like for a franchise that has languished near the bottom of the league for a while.

“I feel I can do better,” Mayo said. “I was a little nervous. I don’t know why.

“I didn’t expect this big a crowd at a summer league game.”

But he handled himself on the court with no problem, playing the off-guard spot as well as handling point guard duties. He also registered three steals.

“I just wanted to win and play hard,” Mayo said. “We’re a young team. Our objective is to get better every game, win or lose.”

Memphis coach Marc Iavaroni liked Mayo’s debut.

“We saw he can make the game easy for his teammates with his passing and his defense, but he can also make it hard on himself with his ballhandling,” Iavaroni said. “We just have to be patient with him. He has tremendous drive.

“It’s his dream and desire to be a great player. We just have to teach him to learn to channel that drive.”

Grizzlies assistant Kevin O’Neill coached against Mayo last season in the Pacific-10 Conference when he was with Arizona. Now that they’re together, O’Neill really appreciates the skills Mayo displayed against the Wildcats and the rest of the conference.

“He’s a lot more talented a player than he’s had the chance to show,” O’Neill said. “I got to work with him one on one over the July Fourth weekend in Chicago, and he really impressed me with his work ethic, his high basketball IQ and his willingness to be coached. We have a very special player in O.J.”

Mayo said this is only the beginning. He doesn’t dwell on all the controversy surrounding his exit from USC and said nothing will distract him in his quest for greatness.

“I really don’t pay any attention to it,” Mayo said of the allegations he accepted extra benefits while in college. “I’ve got a job now to be a basketball player, and I’ve just got to concentrate on doing my job.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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