Depending on where you get your high school basketball information, either O.J. Mayo or Kevin Love was the national prep player of the year last season.
When the 6-foot-5 Mayo came to USC from Huntington, West Virginia he was advertised as the nation’s top prep player.
When the 6-foot-8 1/2 Love arrived at UCLA at the same time he was billed in the same way.
So far, Love has led UCLA to a 14-1 record while Mayo has helped USC go 9-5. On the first weekend of Pac-10 Conference play it was Love who dominated.
What a debut the center from Lake Oswego, Oregon had. Not only was he instrumental in UCLA’s road wins against Stanford and California, he outplayed rival big men who are heading for the NBA.
Stanford’s 7-foot twins, Brook and Robin Lopez, both fouled out. Neither of Cal’s big men, Ryan Anderson nor DaVon Hardin, were much of a factor.
It is anticipated that the Lopez twins, Anderson and Hardin, will all be drafted by NBA teams. Hardin considered entering the last draft and worked out for nine NBA teams in the summer.
But in scoring 19 points and taking 14 rebounds Love was the star of the game.
Meanwhile, Mayo scored 32 points in USC’s loss at California but had a poor shooting day in a loss at Stanford. The defeats marked the Trojans’ first 0-2 conference start since Tim Floyd became the coach three years ago.
Simply stated, Mayo has the potential to be like Kobe Bryant, a remarkable scorer. And Love has the potential to be like Bill Walton, a force in the middle who can control games.
Mayo is more spectacular but Love provides a dimension that is more likely to translate to victories.
Besides scoring and rebounding he draws so much defensive attention that teammates get open shots. The opponent has the choice of surrounding him as most teams have done or playing him straight up, as Hardin attempted to do. Being allowed to go one-on-one for one of the few times this season Love displayed his arsenal of weapons.
Love scored 13 first half points and UCLA gained control of the game in contrast to others this season when they’ve fallen behind early. The only time Hardin dominated was in a brief second half stretch when Love was removed because he had three fouls.
The UCLA players have found it difficult to get the ball to Love early in the season, but recently Coach Ben Howland has encouraged the big man to come away from the basket. Love is an excellent passer and will even attempt an occasional three-point shot. He tried three against California and made one.
UCLA can be seen in high profile games the next two Saturdays at Pauley Pavilion. On January 12 at 11:30 a.m. the opponent will be Washington State, one of the nation’s few undefeated teams. On January 19 it will be USC at 12:30 p.m. in the first collegiate meeting of Love and Mayo.
The star players aren’t strangers. Love and Mayo became friends when they played in high school all-star games.