Leading up to last June’s NBA draft, the overwhelming choice amongst NBA executives and media types over who was the best player in the Draft was University of Memphis point guard Derrick Rose. The Chicago Bulls agreed and selected the hometown product Rose with the first overall pick in the 2008 draft. Rose, like most high school ball players, was a relative unknown before bursting onto the national scene in his one and only year in college at the University of Memphis. Another guard selected 2 picks after Rose with the 3rd overall pick by the Memphis Grizzlies, O.J. Mayo out of USC, has been widely known to basketball fans for a few years. Now, with about two-thirds of their rookie season complete, the two rookie guards are the leading candidates for NBA rookie of the year. Rose and Mayo resemble a similar connection with another pair of exciting guards who were selected early in the 1996 NBA draft, Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury. One is a typical point guard while the other is a cold blooded scorer.
When Iverson and Marbury came out of college in 96’, Marbury was a freshman and Iverson was a sophomore. Mayo and Rose entered the draft following their freshman seasons. In 96’ Iverson was as dynamic a guard the game of college basketball had seen in ages. In his two seasons at Georgetown, the six foot playmaker, with the size of a point guard, displayed great ball handling ability, but had the scoring mentality and game of a shooting guard. A man who rose up on seven footers in the lane and stuffed it down in their faces. Marbury was a star point guard from New York City who got all the hype of a New York City high school legend. He had a similar game and ability to Iverson, except Marbury didn’t rang up as many numbers in the points category but always dished out a heck of a lot more assists than Iverson. The point was that both guards could do both well but their strengths were slightly different.
Leading up to that 96’ draft, the big talk, surrounded over which one would end up having the better career. Many looked at Iverson as the guy who would put on a “highlight reel” type performance on a night in and night out basis, while Marbury, who was looked at as a true point guard who could make other players around him better, was widely considered the one who would be a bigger winner because of his ability to be a true point guard and get all his teammates involved. Iverson, the all-world scorer was selected first overall by Philadelphia while Marbury was taken fourth by Milwaukee, then immediately traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Ray Allen.
After Lebron James was coveted out of high school and later selected with the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, O.J. Mayo took the role, along with center Greg Oden, as the next can’t miss future NBA prospect. Oden and Mayo were both covered by national publications early in their high school years, including by sports illustrated. Mayo was the guard who always had the rock in his hands which gave him the opportunity to dazzle and showcase his talents. O.J. who was raised in Huntington, West Virginia, made his rounds around the AAU basketball circuit which led to his rising national popularity. O.J. played the early part of his high school basketball career at North college Hill high school in Cincinnati, Ohio where he led his school to three consecutive AP poll titles. He also won Mr. Basketball of Ohio honors in his sophomore and junior seasons before returning to West Virginia and enrolling at Hunnington High School for his senior season.
Derrick Rose’s star on the national scene wasn’t born quite as early as that of O.J. Mayo, but he too had a standout high school career, winning two consecutive state championships at Chicago’s Simeon career academy. In 2007, he was named Mr. Basketball of the state of Illinois. He then moved on to the University of Memphis where his pure package of athleticism, power, speed, and smarts immediately grabbed the attention of the sporting nation. Following the recent success of NBA point guards Chris Paul, Steve Nash, and Deron Williams, and the positive effect they each had on their teams rapid rise up the standings, Rose was looked at early in his freshman season as a franchise changing player. However, aroud this time a year ago, before the start of the NCAA tournament, neither Rose or Mayo was really looked upon as the guy who would be the first player selected in the June draft. Instead it was Kansas State University rookie forward Michael Beasley. After march madness and the NCAA tournament, in which Rose led Memphis to the national championship game, and a heartbreaking loss to the University of Kansas in overtime, there was little debate that it would be Rose who be selected first overall.
Now in their rookie seasons, Rose and Mayo have reached the “The Show”, fulfilling a lifelong dream “It’s great,” said O.J. Mayo of his rookie season in the NBA “I had an opportunity to fight my whole life to get to this point, and to finally get here is pretty exciting for me and I’m just looking forward to getting better each and every night.” Mayo leads all rookies in scoring this season with an average of 19.4 points per game, while Rose is 2nd with an average of 16.9 points per game but leads all rookies with an average of 6.4 assists per game. Guys like Rose and Mayo are no doubt basketball crazy, love the sport, and have never been ones to shy away from any opportunity to play the sport. But you would have to think that one of the biggest obstacles for any rookie would be adjusting their body to the physical grind that comes with playing a six month 82 game NBA schedule. “It definitely does” says O.J. Mayo “it’s a tough league and there’s really no easy nights. Every night is a fight, so you’ve got to just continue to work hard and get better.” Neither Mayo nor Rose has missed a game this season “I’m eating right, sleeping right, I’m just getting a lot of rest and I really don’t go out like that.” Derrick Rose tells Wbai Sports about how he’s been able to keep his body from breaking down during the long NBA season, “I’m just listening to all my vets and seeing what they do, taking ice baths and all that stuff, so right now I’m feeling good.”
Generally, in a high school or college season, the most games on a basketball schedule is somewhere between 30 and 40. “So many games in a short amount of time,” Mayo tells wbai Sports about his biggest adjustment to NBA life, “And every night having a tough player to compete against, there are no easy nights, no easy days, only the strong survive in this league.” Mayo acknowledges that in the off-season he has to get stronger so in his words he can hold his ground against “some of the stronger players in this league.” When asked who his toughest matchups are in the NBA Rose chuckles and says “Everybody,” “This is the best competition in the world, every night you’re playing against somebody good, so it’s hard,” he continued “everything is hard, all this new traveling, trying to eat and sleep right, learning the plays as a point guard, learning the opponents plays, all that stuff is hard.”
The NBA and the sport of basketball period, is all about the show. A game that’s mixed with a lot of showmanship in between the fierce competition. O.J. Mayo knows a thing or two about putting on a show and how to promote and draw attention to himself. Coming out of high school he choose to attend the University of Southern California because the school has forever been known as a football school, and Mayo wanted to step foot on campus under the L.A. lights, and make the basketball team a power as well. O.J. wanted to throw his name and talents into the mix under the L.A. spotlight, with the special USC football names such as; Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Troy Polamalu, Reggie Bush, and the rest. Mayo even considered doing something which would have been extremely big and ground breaking. Before deciding to attend USC he considered going to a historically black university, something we never see from the top black athletes of our time. If Mayo would have chosen this route, he sure enough would have created a lot of buzz, because again, the basketball masses knew this kid’s name all throughout his high school career.
Nevertheless, when it comes to some of the players who inspired him to want to make a living out of making incredible things happen with the rock, Mayo points to one of the finest products ever produced from a historically black university “Earl Monroe,” O.J. says, “I’m a really big fan of the older players because back then it didn’t matter if you were 6’4 or 6’2, they just played ball, whether it was point guard or two guard, they really just went out there and played hard and competed well so I’m a big fan of those players.” Interesting for a kid who was born seven years after the pearl retired from the sport “A guy in my neighborhood who really liked his game talked to me about him a lot when I was younger, he found some tapes for me to watch and once I saw those tapes I really became a big fan, the way he played real smooth with a bob to his game, he really had a lot of fun.” Mayo says.
Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls have the best chance of making the playoffs when it comes between them and O.J. Mayo’s Memphis Grizzlies. At the time of this article the Chicago Bulls are a game and a half out of the final playoff spot in the eastern conference with two months remaining in the season, while Memphis stands 18 games removed from the final playoff spot in the western conference, which has them looking towards next year and the future for any possible playoff talk. “We’re a young team, and us growing together is pretty interesting, we’re all going through the same difficult stages, it’s just trying to turn it around and become a good team, we have each other, it’s not going to be easy but I think we’re a team that can fight this uphill battle and become a good team.” Says Mayo. The Grizzles franchise which originated in Vancouver has only been in existence for 14 seasons and still has never won a playoff game. So Mayo and his fellow Grizzles have a long ways to go before they change the aura surrounding the Memphis Grizzlies. As far as individual awards go, if all things are pretty much even, they are usually given to the player whose team does the most winning. So if Rose is able to push the Bulls into the playoffs this spring he could come away with rookie of the year honors “If it comes with me winning I’ll take it but if we don’t make the playoffs then it really wouldn’t mean nothing.” As far as whether Rose speaks with his fellow rookies around the league he says “I don’t talk to them like that, we have a busy schedule.” Like Iverson and Marbury, Rose and Mayo will be linked together in NBA history. It will be fun to watch whether or not these two young guards will surpass the heights of the two who came before them in 96.’