Love and Mayo might have different styles of play, but their friendship is one and the same.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
The last time they played against each other, the two were college freshmen locking horns in a Pacific 10 Conference regular season battle on the fringe of the West Coast in Los Angeles.
Six years and thousands of miles later, the chiseled guard and bulky forward found themselves across the room from each other in a New York City hotel’s conference room as they talked to media members from all over the country on the eve of the NBA Draft.
At first glance, the pair, widely to be considered locks as top 10 picks, don’t appear to be a perfect match. Mayo is a short guy from West Virginia. Love is a tall guy from Oregon. Mayo hardly knew his dad when he was growing up. Love’s dad played in the NBA and passed on the game to him.
The one tie that binds them? Basketball.
“We step on the court, none of us are friends, but when we step off we have common ground wherever we’re from,” Love said.
Another similarity they share is that for all of their talents – Mayo’s Speedracer wheels combined with Hulk-like strength and Love’s outlet passes that are the spitting image of the fastbreak starters that Wes Unseld used to throw to Love’s dad, Stan, when they were NBA teammates 30 years ago – both have their detractors.
The people who judge O.J. believe he has an identity issue. Is he a point guard or a shooting guard? Meanwhile, Kevin’s critics dismiss him as overweight and immobile.
Neither youngster seems to pay it much mind.
“Just for the media: I can play the point guard,” Mayo informed a pack of reporters on Wednesday. “I know you got me as a two guard, but I definitely can play point guard. I can flat-out do whatever.”
Love sought advice from a current NBA superstar to put the critiques in proper perspective.
“I spent a lot of time talking to Steve Nash and he said – he got picked 15th – but he always said that people were too concerned about what he couldn’t do rather than what he could do,” Love said. “And now he’s the two-time MVP – should have been three-time MVP – perennial All-Star and he’s doing a great job. I just think, listening to that stuff, you got to take it in, you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and realize what the pros and cons are, what people are saying about you and you take it as constructive.”
Mayo and Love highlight a banner Draft year for the Pac-10, as the conference is also expected to have Russell Westbrook (UCLA), Jerryd Bayless (Arizona), Ryan Anderson (California) and Brook and Robin Lopez (Stanford) be selected in the First Round, causing Brook Lopez to joke, “They should be holding this thing over at STAPLES Center in L.A., it’s like a Pac-10 convention.”
The duo receive the utmost respect from their Pac-10 peers.
Bayless on Mayo: “O.J. is one of the most misunderstood people in the world. I consider him a pretty close friend now to me and I think he’s one of the best players I’ve ever played against by far and he’s one of the most NBA-ready players I’ve seen. I can’t say enough good things about O.J.”
And Lopez on Love: “I hate guarding Kevin Love. We had to play him three times and we lost all three times. He’s so fundamentally sound. He can go out there and shoot the ball from three. His basketball I.Q. is off the charts. They were able to run the floor just because of his outlet passes.”
Even after their AAU battles (Love said that Mayo never beat him again during the summer circuit after that championship game) and their collegiate clashes (Mayo and USC took the first meeting, Love and UCLA took the second), the two players have each other’s backs.
“Kevin is a hard worker,” Mayo said. “He really did well at UCLA. I know a lot of people are questioning whether he would do in the NBA or not and I just told people, ‘Man, just wait until you see him in his workouts.’ He’s a versatile big. He lost the weight and so that let’s you know right there that he’s a hard worker so whatever team lands him will be happy to have him.”
Love reciprocated the appreciation. “He’s a tremendous competitor and he wants to be great, that’s the biggest thing with him,” Love said.
Mayo has worked out with the teams that hold picks Nos. 1-7, while Love has made visits with Nos. 2-7.
After being slated in the 3-6 range for the last couple of weeks leading up to the Draft, Mayo has caused quite a stir after a “secret” last-minute workout with the Miami Heat on Tuesday.
The 6-3, 200-pounder said he came into the clandestine sweat fest with a sharpened focus and intensity after being inspired by Pat Riley after the first time he worked out for the Heat a few weeks ago.
“I tried to keep high energy. It was actually the hardest workout I’ve been through.”
Mayo killed the workout with the aid of somebody who he thought was just a Heat staffer playing defense on him and rebounding for him.
It turns out the “staffer” was Miami’s new head coach, Erik Spoelstra.
Mayo also recalled that the first time he met Love he thought that he was just a “big kid” who “can’t play.”
The misidentification of Spoelstra by O.J. is pretty surprising -- you'd think by now that Mayo would have learned from his buddy Love that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Maybe Kevin just knows O.J. a little better than O.J. knows Kevin.
When O.J. was asked what is the name of the band that Kevin's uncle was in, he said caustiously, "I know it’s kind of like The Beatles … I don’t listen to that type of music."
(Kevin's uncle Mike is the lead singer of the Beach Boys.)
When Kevin was asked what "O.J." stands for after he was informed that Mayo blanked on his uncle's band, Love responded "Ovinton J'Anthony" without hesitation.
Before adding incredulously, "The Beatles?!"
I'm sure O.J. would have gotten the band title right with a little help from his friend.