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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Talent only characteristic shared by first-year stars Rose, Mayo

Talent only characteristic shared by first-year stars Rose, Mayo
By Dan Wolken
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Derrick Rose had already put a triple-double in the books. O.J. Mayo had made six of his seven threes. And so, with the clock hurtling toward zero, the best AAU team in the country and the chief showman on the 2006 summer circuit finally came together, putting the Big Time in the final Reebok Big Time Tournament.

Rose's Mean Streets Express led by three. Mayo had the ball. He took a tying 3-pointer. Rose fouled him. The ball went in with 2.6 seconds left, and Mayo added the free throw for an 83-82 victory that meant nothing and everything all at once.

"It was a good show," Rose said. "You just felt like it was something, like history was being made."

Years from now, when Rose and Mayo both ascend to NBA stardom, perhaps they will have enough moments like that one on July 24, 2006, to be linked together in the same way as Carmelo and LeBron, like Magic and Bird. And if that simple AAU game was indeed a harbinger of greatness, their meeting tonight as college players should be just as memorable.

From a ramshackle high school gym in Las Vegas to the bright lights of New York, Rose and Mayo will write the next chapter tonight in historic Madison Square Garden when the No. 2-ranked University of Memphis plays No. 24 Southern California. Tipoff is at 8:30 (CST).

"When these guys get together, don't blink," said Dave Telep of "These are two real showmen, and they've done it before, and there's no reason to think they won't do it again."

Though it would be difficult to link Rose and Mayo exclusively, given both the vast talent that will be on the floor tonight and the incredible depth of this freshman class, there is a certain synergy between those two big guards. In fact, they are almost perfect foils.

Talk to anybody who has watched the development of Rose and Mayo throughout AAU ball and into college, and the themes are always the same. Rose is the pure point guard, unselfish to a fault. Mayo is the shooter, at times destructive but always dangerous. Rose is uncomfortable and shy when the spotlight shines on him. Mayo is the supreme extrovert, already polished at age 20.

"He's the one I get compared to or asked about his game, but it doesn't bother me," Rose said. "He's just a competitor. Some of him rubbed off on me when I was playing with him. He doesn't want to lose. And when he thinks the game is there for him, that's when he takes the shot. That's what he's supposed to do."

Others aren't as complimentary of Mayo's game. Though the general public is clearly more familiar with him -- Mayo, after all, has been hyped as the top prospect of his age group since the seventh grade -- many scouts believe Rose is the better player now and will be in the future.

"O.J. has the ability to make people around him so much better, and he doesn't always do that," said Jeff Goodman, college basketball writer and scout for Fox "He has God-given ability that would put him among the top players in the country. I just question O.J. as a teammate. That's why I think Rose is the better player: the intangibles. Those are things where I give the Derrick Roses and the Kevin Loves, those guys the edge over O.J. right now. He can make life so much easier for a lot of his teammates, and I don't think he always does that."

Jerry Meyer of takes it a step further, saying Rose "has a chance to be one of the all-time greats at his position."

But the debate is far from settled.

"These two are still trying to figure out how good they are, and so are the pro scouts," Memphis coach John Calipari said. "You probably have pro scouts that look at both of them and have some doubts."

For now, the only legitimate way to measure them against each other is victories. That's why their AAU matchup had been so highly-anticipated throughout the summer of 2006. It didn't disappoint. Rose finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. Mayo finished with 26 points, including the tying 3-pointer and game-winning free throw right in Rose's face. After it was over, Mayo jumped on the scorer's table and celebrated as though it were a championship.

"It was almost like those guys had kind of ganged up on him, and it was kind of a cathartic moment," Telep said. "It was a big-time shot, and the place just went bonkers, and it was almost like, they got the best of him until that moment."

In fact, Telep said, the first word he wrote in his report on that game was "Wow," which would also aptly describe what Rose and Mayo have done so far as college players. Despite still feeling his way through the Memphis offense, Rose is second on the team in scoring (17.0) and first in assists (4.3) while averaging 5.0 rebounds. Mayo leads the Trojans in scoring (21.0) and is shooting 45.3 percent from the field.

And no matter which way tonight's game goes, no matter how much entertainment those two provide, the argument between them will go on and on, as all the great ones do.

"The beauty of it is, we don't have to answer that question," Telep said. "This is a long year."

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at

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