Best of Both Worlds
This article appears in the January/February 2006 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
What more can we say? This may be the first Greater Cincinnati edition of SchoolSports, but the O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker story has already been chronicled more than Narnia.
Sports Illustrated featured the junior hoop phenoms from North College Hill this past November. And that came years after they were first tearing up varsity ball for Rose Hill Christian (Ashland, Ky.) as seventh-graders.
The years in between found the duo — O.J. especially — exhausting the ink of all the local papers and rivaling Mr. and Mrs. Britney Spears in the national press. Even the NBA's new age minimum hasn't calmed the storm.
"Not at all," says North College Hill coach Jamie Mahaffey. "It's still been, more or less, [the media], coaches, people wanting autographs, people wanting tickets. More and more colleges are involved now. That's most of the hassle."
Even though Mahaffey says SchoolSports would be the last media outlet granted face time with Mayo and Walker on non-game days for the duration of this season, it doesn't really matter.
Dwaine Barnes, the duo's AAU coach and the man most responsible for turning Mayo and Walker into two of the nation's best prep basketball players, doesn't do interviews. And Mayo and Walker are already veterans of the media game at age 18. For the most part, they spit clichés like sunflower seeds, causing most stories about them to read like a transcript.
"A lot of people say [basketball] comes naturally to me, but there's a lot to work on," says Mayo, tongue not in cheek one bit.
So if you really want to know about Mayo and Walker on the court, you gotta go to outside sources.
But first, for that reader out there unfamiliar with the Mayo and Walker story — that reader not chasing autographs or tickets — here's the Cliffs Notes version.
Simply put, Mayo and Walker form the most exciting high school hoop duo in the nation. They were likely to be the first set of prep teammates drafted straight out of high school until the NBA imposed its age minimum.
Their unlikeliest of scripts started out in Huntington, W.Va., where they were raised just miles apart. Far too good for youth hoops as middle schoolers, they crossed the state border daily to attend school and play varsity ball in Kentucky at Rose Hill because varsity athletes in West Virginia must be in at least ninth grade. Then for high school, the two came to Ohio and moved in with Barnes across the street from North College Hill.
"Dwaine came in when I was 9, recognized my ability and was the only one who thought we could make it," says Mayo. "He took us under his wing. When everyone was outside playing, me and Bill were in the gym for four or five hours a day when we were 9 or 10 years old."
That work has paid off. A 6-foot-5, 205-pound point guard, Mayo's game oozes similarities with Dwyane Wade. Walker, meanwhile, is a 6-foot-6, 222-pound swingman with pogo-stick hops and a penchant to throw down Dominique-in-the-'80s dunks.
SchoolSports.com — and nearly every other recruiting Web site and magazine in the country — rates Mayo the nation's No. 1 hoop recruit in the Class of 2007. He's the most hyped high school baller since LeBron, the gold standard of prep hoops. Google Mayo's name and you get 222,000 hits.
Mayo is the loquacious one of the two. The one who relishes the LeBron comparisons. Walker, rated the nation's No. 4 recruit in the junior class, is the quiet one. The one who lets his game — or, more accurately, his nasty jams — do the talking.
"Nothing was as exciting as the first time that I dunked," says Walker. "That was crazy, that opened it up. I'd say I was about 13. Ever since then, I've been tearing it up."
Walker and Mayo both tore it up last year, that's for sure. Walker averaged 20.8 points and 12.2 boards per game while Mayo went off for averages of 28.1 points, 8.1 assists and 7.7 rebounds as North College Hill coasted to the Division III state title and a 27-1 record.
So there you have it. Stats back up the hype surrounding Mayo and Walker. But like we said, if game truly recognize game, then who better to speak about the Trojans' stud horses than their victims? Like Villa Angela-St. Joseph swingman David Lighty, whose state championship dreams will likely be derailed by North College Hill this season.
"I think they live up to the hype," says Lighty, a Cleveland native who's rated the nation's No. 30 senior recruit by SchoolSports.com. "They back it up."
Lighty's cryptic response is very calculated. Wouldn't you be vague if anything you said could and would be held against you in a court of hard knocks come playoff time?
Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg, Mass.) shooting guard Paul Harris, on the other hand, has nothing to hide. Harris, rated the nation's No. 7 senior recruit by SchoolSports.com, will be ballin' at Syracuse next year and won't have to face the Mayo/Walker wrath again for quite some time.
Harris, who has earned a rep as the closest thing to Ron Artest in high school hoops (minus the crazy gene) by playing lock-down defense, has been burned by both Mayo and Walker time and time again the past few summers. So if anybody can vouch for them, it's Harris.
"I think O.J.'s a great player, probably the best player I've played," says Harris. "He is just so fundamentally sound. He's got NBA moves. And with his jump shot, you can't give him no room.
"And Billy Walker, he's my type of guy," Harris continues. "A strong, beastie guy who attacks the rim. You just might get dunked on."
Harris' teammate at Notre Dame Prep, Louisville-bound big man Derrick Caracter, knows that's the truth.
On the first day of last summer's Reebok Big Time Tournament in Las Vegas, Caracter's New York Panthers AAU squad was tied with Mayo and Walker's D1 Greyhounds at 65 with 10 seconds left. The Greyhounds had the ball. Which, with the game on the line, meant Mayo had the rock.
10… 9… 8… 7. Mayo pulls up for what appears to be a 30-foot jumper. The defense collapses. Lurking in the shadows of the baseline, Walker streaks toward the hoop.
6… 5… 4. Mayo's jumper appears to be a bit off. The Panthers anticipate OT. But Walker raises up, grabs Mayo's alley-oop dish, throws down the winning two points and lives up to his myriad of nicknames — Rubber Band Man, Freak Show and Sky Walker included — in one fluid motion.
Dagger in the Panthers' heart. Final score, 67-65.
Reebok national grassroots basketball manager Chris Rivers, who met Mayo as an eighth-grader and Walker a year later, has seen it all. He's seen Walker dunk over a 7-foot-5 center from Iran. He's seen Mayo isolate precocious challengers and demoralize them by sticking 22-foot jumpers in their faces.
But nothing sticks out quite like that moment last summer.
"I'm not even making any of this up," Rivers says. "The chemistry between Bill and O.J., you can only teach it if people are family."
What more can we say?