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Adjustment for O.J.

Jan. 27, 2009 @ 08:47 AM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- From a young age, O.J. Mayo was geared toward a life in the NBA.

From his athletic ability on the basketball court to being followed by the media hoards at an early age, Mayo was ready for just about everything the NBA life would throw at him.

Except losing.

After being accustomed to winning all throughout his childhood the former Huntington High star, a Memphis Grizzlies rookie guard, is struggling to come to terms with the current nine-game losing streak that his team is mired in heading into tonight's contest with the Denver Nuggets.

"It's really hard because every game this season, we've had opportunities to win them but it comes down to the stretch and not executing as well as the other team," Mayo said last week before a game with the Charlotte Bobcats.

To put it in perspective, Mayo lost just five games throughout his entire high school career between his three years at North College Hill (Ohio) and Huntington High in his senior year. He only lost 12 games in his one year of college at USC.

What's even more frustrating to Mayo is there is a lot of talent on the Grizzlies. Yet here he is in the NBA on a team with the average age of its starting players 21.5 years, and he has lost 32 games in a little more than two months.

He said the team has struggled in the fourth quarters of games, and that has been the season's downfall so far.

"We're definitely young and we're learning, but we don't want to use it as a crutch," said Mayo, who leads NBA rookies with a 19.1 scoring average. "We just want to continue to get better. We're still confident every time we step out on the court."

Much like everything involving Mayo and basketball, the 21-year-old is wise beyond his years. Former Memphis Grizzlies coach Marc Iavaroni -- he was fired after last Wednesday's loss in Charlotte -- said with Mayo on board, the Grizzlies are headed for great things.

"O.J. is one of the most coachable players I've ever been around," Iavaroni said. "Professionalism comes with getting to the gym first and leaving last. He loves to learn, he loves to work on his game and he wants to be a great player. You don't see that a lot."

Mayo said despite the Grizzlies' struggles, the team is not looking to build toward the future. They want to build for the present and start righting the ship tonight against Denver.

Iavaroni applauded the fact that Mayo had not grown complacent despite going through a situation that he has never been through before.

"You have to make sure that you aren't putting things off. You are trying to win every game. That's how you get better," Iavaroni said. "Preparing every night, every practice. Learning, teaching, building. You understand the big picture, but if you just keep talking about the big picture then it doesn't sink in."

The big picture has been entrenched in Mayo for a long time, just as being a star in the NBA has.

Mayo is living his dream playing in the NBA, but losing is not part of it.

"I have really looked forward to playing in the NBA since I was a really young age and to move my Mom into a nice home and have her to come to my games, my brothers and sisters to my NBA games," Mayo said. "It's really been a great experience. Hopefully, the second part of the season we can turn it around.

"We are definitely a young team and every time we step on the court, we feel ourselves getting better and becoming a better team. We will turn things around."



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