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An old friend is waiting for Mayo

Times Staff Writer

When USC’s opponent in the NCAA tournament was announced on the video board at the Galen Center on Sunday, O.J. Mayo smiled and reached for his cellphone.

The Trojans’ freshman guard had good news to share with an old friend.

Mayo and Kansas State freshman Bill Walker, former high school teammates who have known each other since age 3, will be reunited Thursday when the sixth-seeded Trojans play the 11th-seeded Wildcats in a Midwest Region first-round game in Omaha.

Mayo said he had predicted his team’s opponent and destination after Kansas State lost to Texas A&M; in a Big 12 Conference tournament quarterfinal.

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“They lost pretty early in their conference tournament, and Omaha seemed like a good place for us to play,” Mayo said. “At the same time, it’s pretty much always kind of about money. I think we’ll draw a pretty good crowd in Omaha, and Kansas State will also.”

Apparently, close friends think alike.

“I was thinking the same thing he was -- wouldn’t that be something? -- and it just happened like that,” Walker said in a telephone interview.

Walker and Mayo grew up together in Huntington, W.Va., before leaving to lead Cincinnati North College Hill High to two state titles. When the Ohio High School Athletic Assn. ruled in the summer of 2006 that Walker had exhausted his athletic eligibility, Mayo departed for his hometown Huntington High and Walker left for Kansas State, a year earlier than expected.

Walker played in only six games as a freshman before rupturing a knee ligament and sitting out the remainder of the season. But the 6-foot-6 forward has averaged 15.8 points and 6.4 rebounds this season while combining with standout freshman Michael Beasley to give Kansas State one of the top duos in the country.

Mayo quickly emerged as USC’s best player, averaging 20.8 points while leading the Trojans back to the NCAA tournament one season after they advanced to the Sweet 16.

Mayo described Walker as “my best friend in the world” and said they spoke two to three times a week.

“It’s like we can’t get rid of each other,” Walker joked of the first-round matchup. “We’re inseparable. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

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ben.bolch@latimes.com


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