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CNN SATURDAY

Hype Machine Goes Overdrive for O.J. Mayo

Aired December 21, 2002 - 18:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: The hype machine is in overdrive for a 15-year-old eight-grader in Kentucky. O.J. Mayo has recruiters watering at the mouth. Josie Karp looks at why this very young man is getting so much attention.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We may not see another player in this area in the next 50 years, with his skill, talent and ability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to do something that is going to make you drop your jaw.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: O.J. Mayo, I mean, he's the household word now.

SPORTS ANNOUNCER: Number 32, O.J. Mayo!

(APPLAUSE)

JOSIE KARP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: O.J. Mayo is the most talked about high school basketball player in Kentucky. He was all-state last season at Ashland's Rose Hill Christian School. He signs autographs; he has his own web site; he is also in the eight-grade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's definitely the top eight-grader in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's the No. 1 high school player in his class.

KARP: Mayo may indeed be the best eight-grade player in the country, but how and why do we know this? Because these men tell us so. The hunt for the next crop of college basketball talent has scouts like Rick Bolus and Clark Francis appraising boys who are barely into their teens.

CLARK FRANCIS, HOOP SCOOP ONLINE: Why are people in our business identifying players at an earlier and earlier age? Because college coaches want to know about it.

ROCK BOLUS, HIGH POTENTIAL RECRUITING SERVICE: If you talk to any college coach they're going to tell you the earlier they can get in on a player the better chance they have of recruiting that player and signing him.

KARP: Good for the colleges, but is stardom more than a middle schooler should have to handle?

O.J. MAYO, ROSE HILL CHRISTIAN, 8th GRADER: The expectations, I mean, everywhere you go, (INAUDIBLE), fans just looking to say, oh, he ain't that good. He can't do this. So basically, it is wherever you go people expect you to put on a show.

FRANCIS: At some point they have to deal with the media, with the notoriety, with the attention, it's part of the job. And if they can't stand the heat, you have to get out of the kitchen.

O.J. Mayo, you know, he's playing on the varsity in (INAUDIBLE), if he doesn't want take the heat, if he doesn't want to be how good he is, he doesn't have to play on the varsity.

KARP: While scouts spread the word to coaches and hardcore fans on the Internet, the hype machine would stall without the mainstream media. And that's a dilemma for some journalists.

MIKE FIELDS, "LEXINGTON HERALD LEADER": We've talked about it here, with our editors, just how much do you give a kid this age? Because we do contribute like we're contributing to it. But, it's like, you're walking down the street and you see a giraffe in a telephone booth or something, you just can't ignore it.

PAUL HEWITT, HEAD BASKETBALL COACH, GEORGIA TECH: What you get concerned with, as a coach, is that it discourages young people from working or it discourages young people from working because they feel like they've already made it.

MAYO: I don't feel that I've accomplished anything. So, I just want to work harder. It is motivation really. I rank No. 1 right now, three years from now, I might rank No. 30.

JEFF HALL, MAYO'S HIGH SCHOOL COACH: As great as everything is right now, who's to say that, who knows, next week there could be an injury here, or something happens there. And it could be over.

KENNY ZIEGLER, MAYO's FATHER: We just try to keep him grounded, you know? Keep everybody, close family, only loved ones with him. Try not expose him to too much, you know, as far as autograph signing and interviews.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The main thing that I want for O.J. Mayo, personally, is I want him to be allowed to be a middle school kid.

KARP: It may be too late for that. The word is out on O.J. Mayo, and as coach Hall himself admits, it's going to get pretty hectic around here.

For CNN Sports, I'm Josie Karp.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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