O.J. Mayo is coming back to USC for his sophomore season. Or maybe not.
The heralded freshman guard said Tuesday afternoon when he met with the media at Heritage Hall that he intended to return for a second year of college unless he was guaranteed to become a lottery pick in the NBA draft -- a proposition that for now is considered likely.
"Right now, I plan on staying more than one year unless my situation changes and I have an opportunity to make a living for my family," Mayo said. "Right now, I'm focusing on my education, and I'm hoping next year if I do return -- which I plan on -- I'd like to go into business management and real estate investments."
Mayo noted that he could suffer an injury or fail to meet expectations, developments that would force him to seriously consider returning to college for another season.
"I'm working hard, but I could maybe not have a good year," he said. "You never know. I don't really want to look ahead at that. I want to focus on this year.
"If I have an opportunity to be a lottery pick and take care of my family, then I would most certainly have to look at that. But right now education-wise, I'm planning on coming back next year."
Coach Tim Floyd said he would encourage Mayo to leave for the NBA if he was projected to be a high first-round draft pick because it would be irresponsible to allow him to return and risk suffering a career-threatening injury.
Mayo said his mother, Alisha, who was initially reluctant to allow him to attend college across the country from their home in Huntington, W.Va., has softened her stance in the wake of violent outbursts in the neighborhood.
"Back at home it's getting real rough," Mayo said. "A lot of people are getting shot and there's a lot of bad activities going on. She's like, 'I never thought I would be happy for you being 3,000 miles away.'
"The only thing she was worried about was that she always heard USC was in . . . a bad neighborhood. But you have campus police, and they do a great job of patrolling our university, and everyone looks out for each other on this university. No one will really let anything bad happen to you while you're on this campus."
Mayo said he hoped his mother could take a break from her job as a nurse's assistant -- she works nine hours a day six days a week -- and travel to Southern California to attend several USC games. Mayo's friends and family have already planned to charter two buses and attend USC's game against Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 4 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Sophomore forward Taj Gibson added 14 pounds of muscle in the off-season, going from 210 pounds to 224, after following a rigorous weightlifting regimen. He also ate five times a day.
"It's made a difference," Gibson said. "I go stronger to the rim, and I take care of the ball more. Last year, I had a lot of problems with defenders coming and stripping the ball from me. Now I'm real strong and physical with the ball."
Gibson said the increased strength should also improve his stamina, which became an issue during the second half of last season.
"Toward the end of the season my body kind of wore down a little bit from not being used to the physical contact," he said. "Now I can bang longer."
Sophomore guard Daniel Hackett said he still had not heard whether he had made the final cut for the Italian national team that will compete in the FIBA European Championships, Sept. 3-16 in Spain. Hackett would have to miss two weeks of school to make the trip.
"Coach put it on me," Hackett said. "He said, 'You're a mature guy. If you can take care of business, go. If you can't, stay.' It's a big opportunity to be a backup point guard for the national team at that level, but if it doesn't come this year, hopefully it will come next year with the Olympics or in the following years."