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Floyd: Mayo is not at fault

Times Staff Writer

USC Coach Tim Floyd said Wednesday that he told star freshman O.J. Mayo that he could accept free Lakers tickets and that if anybody should be punished for potential NCAA violations, it should be the coach.

“My feeling is that if there’s a mistake made, it was made by me,” Floyd said. “If they want to suspend me for a game, suspend me for a game, but not the kid. He did the right thing.”

Floyd said he thought it was acceptable for Mayo to receive complimentary tickets from Denver Nuggets All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, whom Mayo has known since the seventh grade, because the players were friends. Mayo attended the Lakers’ 116-99 victory over the Nuggets on Monday at Staples Center.

Anthony was also caught by surprise. “I don’t know how in the heck it got that serious,” he told the Rocky Mountain News on Wednesday. “It should be nothing against [Mayo].”

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The NCAA is aware of the matter but a spokesperson said the organization would not comment on current, pending or potential investigations.

Mayo said he had been contacted by USC compliance representatives, but Tim Tessalone, the school’s sports information director, said university officials would not comment on potential NCAA violations or confirm whether they were investigating.

Asked if he was concerned that his actions could constitute an NCAA violation, Mayo said, “I’m not worried, man. I’m worried about Oregon State.” The Trojans play the Beavers tonight in Corvallis, Ore.

Mayo acknowledged that he also attended a Clippers game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in November. James Dunleavy, a Trojans freshman guard, said he took Mayo as his guest; Dunleavy’s father, Mike, is the Clippers’ coach.

James Dunleavy said USC assistant Bob Cantu told him he could take any of his teammates to a Clippers game once a semester.

“I just had to make sure [it was OK] because obviously I didn’t want to get my dad, or the Clippers or anyone on our team in trouble,” Dunleavy said.

It is not clear if attending either game would represent an NCAA extra-benefits violation on the part of Mayo.

NCAA bylaw 16.11.2.2.3 states that student-athletes may not receive “free or reduced-cost admission to professional athletics contests from professional sports organizations, unless such services also are available to the student body in general.”

Whether the NCAA would consider Anthony an agent of the Nuggets or merely an individual who gave tickets to a friend is not clear. The Lakers tickets Mayo received were behind courtside seats near mid-court and had a face value of $230 each.

Floyd said he didn’t understand the logic of the NCAA bylaw and that college players frequently were guests of NBA friends at the United Center when he coached the Chicago Bulls.

“Would it be available to another student?” Floyd asked of the tickets Mayo received. “Well, I would assume if another student at SC has a friend in the NBA that they went to high school with and that guy offered them a ticket to the game that they could go to the game.”

Another NCAA bylaw, 16.7.1.1, says, “Complimentary tickets to professional sports contests shall not be provided to student-athletes, unless the tickets are provided by the institution . . . for entertainment purposes to student-athletes involved in an away-from-home contest.”

An away-from-home game, as defined by the NCAA, is one that takes place 100 miles or more from the school.

A compliance director from a West Coast school said that Mayo’s actions could constitute a secondary violation and that the NCAA could order Mayo to donate the value of the tickets to charity.

“It’s [a] secondary violation, it’s one of ignorance on my part, if it was a mistake, and I’ll take the responsibility because I told the kid he could go to the game,” Floyd said. “I assumed he could go to the game. He did the right thing and I did the wrong thing.

“If he has to pay restitution or give money to a charity or whatever, so be it.”

In 2000, Arizona forward Richard Jefferson was suspended for one game after receiving airfare and tickets from Bill Walton, whose son Luke played for the Wildcats, to attend an NBA Finals game. Jefferson had to pay the estimated value of the gift -- $281 -- to a charity of his choice.

Mayo is the Trojans’ leading scorer, averaging 19.7 points and 4.6 rebounds.

Saying “it was just time for a change,” former Westchester High star Marcus Johnson has transferred to USC from Connecticut and will become eligible in December.

The 6-foot-6 swingman averaged 4.9 points in two seasons and one game for the Huskies.

He had earlier said he was transferring to Oregon State, but he participated in his first practice at USC on Wednesday. He will have almost two full seasons of eligibility remaining.

Johnson started 24 of the 51 games in which he played for Connecticut, but he left the Huskies after playing only six minutes in an exhibition game against Assumption on Nov. 1.

“I just felt it was the right place for me,” Johnson said of USC. “I wanted to be close to home and it’s a good program with a good coach.”

Johnson helped Westchester win the state Division I title in 2004-05, his senior season.

TODAY

at Oregon State, 5:30 p.m.,

FSN Prime Ticket

Site -- Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, Ore.

Radio -- 710.

Records -- USC 11-6 overall, 2-3 Pacific 10 Conference; Oregon State 6-12, 0-6.

Update -- The Trojans are not sure what to expect going up against a team with an interim coach after the firing of Coach Jay John. Floyd said the Beavers could unveil changes in personnel and philosophy.

--

ben.bolch@latimes.com


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