What did you see in Mario when you first saw him in the 6th grade?
"Well actually it took longer for Mario. When Mario first came to me he wasn't sure that basketball was the direction that he wanted to go. He was a guy who was a defensive player, a hard worker. And I was training a lot of other guys and he came to me on day and said 'Pops, I'm ready to start playing.' When he did that, then we started to work that day. And he worked to get to where he is today."
Where is he now?
"He is one of the best players in his class. His story is still being written. There are a lot of things that Mario is going to accomplish this year. He has grown, he is long, he has matured to the point where he has become a scorer and an all-around player here at Oak Hill under Coach Smith."
What are your thoughts about him signing with Mississippi State and playing for Ben Howland? Howland has put 21 guys into the NBA.
"Well, Ben's resume speaks for itself. For Mario, it is an opportunity to do something special for his state. Ben has done well in recruiting. But I think this is the first time that Mississippi State a top-10, top-5 recruiting class. It is the first time in a long time that that has happened. So, he wanted to be a part of that. He wanted to headline that. He got calls, my wife and I got calls from Schnider (Herard), Lindsey with (Abdul) Ado. Everybody wanted to know is Mario coming (to Mississippi State). Now he has the opportunity to play with guys like Tyson (Carter), Lamar (Peters), Quinndary Weatherspoon, some of those guys. There is the opportunity to do big things,"
That brings up my next question. When he comes to MSU he will play with other players with similar talent to him. Will that allow him to really showcase his talent because teams won't be able to key on him? I guess it will be similar to what they have here at Oak Hill Academy.
"It is exactly like here but on steroids. When you talk about Tyson Carter, a 6-foot-5 point guard who can shoot it from half court. When you talk about Lamar (Peters) and the flash he has with assists and able to shoot the three. When you talk about Quinndary Weatherspoon, you talk about solid and able to score it inside and out, rebounds well. When you talk about Mario you talk about his perimeter skills, mid-range and doing all of that on the perimeter. And then you talk about the post guys that Mississippi State is trying to get, scorers down low who are tough and physical. long and big, two 6-foot-11 kids who can really go. Mississippi State is going to give the SEC a run for its money. "
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.