As you might know, Cincinnati North College Hill is led by the top two juniors in the nation, O.J. Mayo and Bill Walker. While I first caught wind of these two when they were seventh graders setting the Kentucky varsity basketball scene on fire. Hailing from Huntington, West Virginia, the decision was made to send the two phenoms right over the tri-state border to Rose Hill Christian HS in Kentucky for their seventh and eighth grade seasons, so they were able to play varsity basketball. While Walker missed a large portion of these two years due to various injuries, Mayo shined, averaging 23.1 points a game as a seventh grader and 20.5 points a game as an eighth grader while leading Rose Hill to their first Kentucky State Tournament in the schools history. The two then packed their bags and headed west to Cincinnati, where they landed at North College Hill.
Mayo and Walker are joined by two other division one prospects at NCH in Keenan Ellis and Damon Butler. Ellis, a 611 JR, has the wingspan of a condor and is off the charts athletically. While he is still extremely skinny and doesnt have much of a low post game offensively, Keenan changes the game on the defensive end and has announced that he will be attending whatever school Mayo and Walker choose to attend. Butler, a diminutive point guard, is only a sophomore and will receive great exposure playing with the big three.
North College Hill was matched up against a tough Patterson School team, a national power comprised of talents from throughout the country. The high school team has a front line consisting of 67 JR Kenyan Harman (verballed to UNC-Charlotte), 610 SR Jordan Hill (signed with Arizona), and 70 Toni Soda (signed with Nebraska). Even with such an outstanding group of frontcourt players, Pattersons most productive player is 65 JR SG/SF Dominique Sutton (Wake Forest leads Arizona, Iowa State, and Virginia Tech). Sutton, who reclassified to the class of 2007, is an athletic wing who has the intense, fiery attitude that college coaches absolutely love. Aside from these four players, the North Carolina prep academy boasts a number of low-mid major division one prospects, all capable of starring on their local high school teams.
From the opening tip-off, it was clear that this was going to be O.J. Mayos day to shine. With running-mate Bill Walker suffering from severe cramps and hamstring problems, Mayo had to take on the majority of the scoring duties. The game started off pretty evenly, as Patterson got out to a 16-14 lead early in the game via Dominique Suttons impressive drives to the basket and Jordan Hills inside scoring abilities. At this time, the two North College Hill stars were noticeably off, as O.Js shot was not falling and Bill Walkers leg was clearly bothering him. Mr. Mayo and Co. then decided to turn things up a notch, playing incredibly intense pressure defense out to nearly half court, wreaking havoc on the Patterson guards. On the other end of the floor, Mayo was challenged by the feisty Sutton but brought his A game leading his team to an incredible 18-0 run to give North College Hill a 32-16 lead. Patterson was able to make a late charge in the first half to cut the lead under 10, but could not really get within striking distance of the hot Trojans. At the half, Mayo was leading North College Hill with 13 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists.
The second half started off with a bang, as Patterson was able to battle back into the game via the strong inside play again of Jordan Hill. Hill, an Arizona signee, was able to keep Patterson in the game with his great athleticism, resulting in several dunks for the 610 senior. Not to be outdone, teammate Dominique Sutton chipped in with a variety of nifty drives, but let his emotions get the best of him as he picked up an unnecessary technical foul.
On the other side of things, Bill Walkers injuries still continued to nag him a bit, and he just wasnt the player we saw over the summer. He did however have one absolutely breath-taking dunk in which the 66 man-child took off from about 10 feet away and dunked on 70 Toni Soda, who was attempting to take a charge. This totally swung the momentum of the game, where teammate O.J. Mayo did the rest of the work.
With around five minutes left in the game, North College Hill was still clinging to a 5 point lead, 53-48. Mayo then decided to take over, scoring 15 points in the final five minutes to bring the Trojans over the top. He scored through a variety of drives, deep three pointers, and dazzling dunks. The JR combo guard was absolutely unstoppable, and showed all fans in attendance why he is the top player in the class of 2007, finishing with 41 points in a 75-56 victory.
O.J. Mayo, 6-5, 205 pounds, point guard, 2007
41 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 12-28 FG, 3-12 3PT, 14-14 FT
This game was your typical Mayo performance. There were a few questionable shots, a few unnecessary three point attempts, but he still showed devastating quickness, a great handle for a guard his size, and NBA range on his jumpshot. O.J. easily could have had 50 points had a few of his three pointers not toilet bowled out. Dont let his low shooting percentage from the land of three fool you however, as this kid is one of the very best three point shooters off of the dribble in all of high school. There might not be a better guard in the country with the ball in his hands in the closing seconds of a game in terms of creating his own shot.
What was most impressive however about Mayo was his intense, shutdown defense that he displayed in the second half. As we have mentioned before, O.J. is a great defender when he wants to be, so it was a pleasure to watch him put forth excellent effort on both ends. Some just dont understand how draining it is to have your teams entire offense ran through you on one end of the court, and then having to guard the opposing teams best player on the other end of the floor, which made this performance all the more impressive.
O.J. also kept his turnovers under control much better then he did over the summer, showing the ability to run a team with fluidity. His passing skills have never been in question, as he would have had at least 10 assists if his teammates had better hands and/or were able to finish well inside.
O.J. Mayo Interview
Local Reporter: Youre home again! Is this still home, or is Cincinnati home?
Mayo: This is still home. This is always home.
Local Reporter: Do you look forward to coming back to this event every year?
Mayo: Yes sir. We try to get two games scheduled here every year to show off my abilities and my team.
Local Reporter: Is it hard to focus once the ball goes up in the air?
Mayo: Its kind of hard to focus. Theres a lot of people in the crowd that you know who are talking to you and you want to talk back because you havent seen them in a long time, but you have to play the game.
Local Reporter: How much fun was todays game as opposed to last nights? (a 100 point win over a local WV team)
Mayo: It was real fun. It was a lot more competitive today. We played a real good Patterson team and we came out with a victory.
Local Reporter: Do you realize the schedule that you have over the next few weeks? With going to California and playing in Columbus? Whats that going to be like?
Mayo: Its going to be really exciting. Just hopefully well come out of those games with a win.
Local Reporter: Is it tiring at all? Do you ever get tired of this schedule with the travel?
Mayo: Sometimes. You have to rest your body, manage your time, and just take care of business.
Local Reporter: Tell me about business, just in general. Does this ever get to the point where you sky to the rim pretty easily? Does this ever get to the point to where you stand back and say This is pretty easy for me right now?
Mayo: I just try to go out and compete every night and better myself every time I step out on the floor. Just compete and play the game to compete and hopefully our team will come out with a win. We had a great team effort and we played good this weekend.
Local Reporter: How do guys like you and Billy manage to stay focused? Youre on Sports Illustrated covers what do you guys envision after high school?
Mayo: College, a national championship, and then Ill enter the Draft.
Local Reporter: As far as college, Im not going to ask you where, but what kind of school? Do you have any preferences? Big city? Small town?
Mayo: The decision will be based on me and my family. We will make sure they have a great fan base, a great coach, and a great supporting cast once we arrive there.
Local Reporter: Are there any conferences or something?
Mayo: Not really. Were kind of open right now and well make a family decision later.
DraftExpress: With you being regarded as the top player in the class of 2007, what exactly is it that keeps you motivated to constantly improve upon your game?
Mayo: YOU. You made a comment that that uhh I dont know. Just make sure Im happy, make sure my family is happy. Just keep competing.
DraftExpress: Well what areas of your game are you looking to work on the most?
Mayo: My explosiveness and quickness. At the same time, take less shots and shoot a higher percentage. Not force too many bad shots. Just play hard every play. When the clocks ticking, Im going to play hard.
DraftExpress: A lot of people spoke of Cincinnati being one of the favorites for you guys when Bob Huggins was there. Are you guys going to automatically strongly consider whatever school Hugs lands at next?
Mayo: I wouldnt really say that. My family has a close relationship with Hugs in that weve known him since sixth grade. Our decision will be based on our family, and what best fits us.
DraftExpress: So what schools fit you best at the moment?
Mayo: Right now I havent really looked into it. Im just trying to concentrate on the high school season. Im just trying to have an undefeated season and continue to get better.
DraftExpress: Who would you say your toughest opponent that youve went up against thus far in your career has been?
Mayo: Everyone is tough because everyone comes at me hard. I would have to say Bill, my own teammate. Every day in practice, we just push each other. Then Id probably have to say myself, as far as taking my time and playing the game the right way.
Bill Walker- 6-6, 220 pounds, small forward, 2007
11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, 4-9 FG, 2-2 FT, 1-2 3PT
One really cant judge Walker off of his performance in this game, as he was definitely hampered by injuries that affected his biggest strength, his leaping ability. It was clear that Sky relies on his world class athleticism as the key asset of his game, so it was a bit different to see him finish with only one dunk, although it was a definite SportsCenter Top 10 caliber play.
It was obvious throughout the game that Walker does much better in an up and down, fast paced game than he does in the half court setting. With Mayo dominating the ball for the most part, Walker seemed to sometimes disappear and stand around. His jumpshot has great elevation, but it is still a bit flat, which is the only reason he ever misses. On the shots that he does decide to put arch on, he probably makes about 75% of them. On the other line drive jumpers that he shoots, he does not fare quite as well. This is something that he will surely work on during his rigorous workouts with Mayo in the off-season.
A positive from watching this game was that it showed that Walker has the ability to play through pain. He could barely even walk out to the floor before the game, but showed great heart and passion throughout regardless. Although he wasnt able to put up the best numbers,our opinion of him from the summer, where he was dominant in Las Vegas, has not changed. Walker is the most explosive athlete that I have ever seen at the high school level, and his perimeter game is beginning to come along to match his athleticism. While Mayo is definitely the more finished product and better player at the moment, an argument can definitely be made that Walker has the potential to be at least as good a player at the NBA level and possibly even better, because he hasnt even scratched the surface of how good he can become.
The Media Frenzy
With this being their homecoming, there was an absolute media and fan frenzy for Mayo and Walker. There were hundreds of fans and probably two dozen reporters lined up to get to the two junior stars, which meant having to wait an hour or more for personal one on one interviews and delaying the already long ride home, which was not really a logical option. Walker was receiving treatment on his leg in the locker room when answering questions, creating a horrible echo which made it difficult to transcribe anything. Mayo on the other hand was at least on the court, although swarmed by autograph hounds and local Huntington media. Here is what I was able to transcribe:
Local Reporter: Does it ever get boring? You sky to the bucket so easily so easy so effortless that you ever get bored with it?
Walker: Naw. Theres many things that you can do on the basketball court. You try to be a force without it. You dont have to score. Theres only a certain amount of players that can do that, and I try to be one of those players.
Local Reporter: When you decide on a school, what kind of a school is it going to be? Geographically? Size wise?
Walker: I dont want to go somewhere where its freezing cold. I want to have a nice environment in terms of campus. I dont know.
Local Reporter: Was this weekend one of those that was circled on your calendar?
Walker: It was great being back seeing everybody. It was a great, humbling experience.
Stay tuned to DraftExpress as we will see these two in action at least two more times throughout the season. We will be on hand for events in which they will play Canton McKinley (defending division one state champions in Ohio, with 68 SF/PF and Michigan State recruit Raymar Morgan), as well as Oak Hill Academy (number two team in the nation at the moment with UNC signee Tywon Lawson and nd top three junior Michael Beasley who we wrote about two weeks ago.