COLUMBUS - They came to see Elvis, but Elvis never even entered the building.
O.J. Mayo, perhaps the most celebrated high school player in the country, was a no-show for yesterday's state tournament semifinal game between Archbold and Mayo's Cincinnati North College Hill team.
A near-capacity crowd stuffed into Value City Arena, anticipating a highlight display from Mayo, but Ohio's two-time Mr. Basketball was "not playing."
Those were the carefully parsed words chosen by North College Hill principal Kelly Hughes to describe his absence.
Hughes said in a written statement released to the media minutes after North College Hill beat Archbold 49-34, that "due to a school matter" she made the decision that Mayo "would not travel with the team or participate in this evening's game."
"I would not term it a suspension," Hughes said earlier in the day, further clouding the issue that had the high school basketball community abuzz in the hours before the game.
"I found out at the hotel," Archbold coach Doug Krauss said. "I have no idea what happened, and there wasn't much I can do about it, but it's too bad. I'm sure it was a tough decision on their part."
On the topic of Mayo, and how thousands of fans did not see the star they came to watch yesterday, North College Hill coach Jamie Mahaffey stuck to the gag order in his postgame comments.
"I just can't say anything, from an administrative standpoint," Mahaffey said. "I know he feels sorry he's not here, but it's something we can't control."
The coach said his best player was back in Cincinnati, and that Mahaffey would not know until sometime tonight if Mayo would be available for the championship game tomorrow afternoon.
"We'll know later on tonight, but our backs are strong," Mahaffey said. "We always deal with a lot of controversy and a lot of issues. We tried to overcome it."
Krauss said the missing Mayo had little impact on his team's approach to the game against North College Hill, which also features 6-foot-6 Bill Walker, a projected future NBA player, like Mayo. Walker had 23 points and 13 rebounds, and played as big a role in Archbold's loss as the Streaks' 23 percent shooting did.
"It didn't affect us at all," Krauss said. "You hate to see that, but we didn't change anything. We just needed to knock some shots down, that's all."
Archbold's Gene Goering, an all-state pick as a sophomore this season, said it was clear that North College Hill had other weapons, despite the loss of Mayo.
"It was kind of shocking," Goering said of the news about Mayo, "but you can't worry about it. They still have other great athletes."
Mayo, born Ovinton J'Anthony Mayo in Huntington, W.Va., created his legend by playing high school basketball in nearby Kentucky as a seventh grader at Rose Hill Academy. Rose Hill was 1-33 before Mayo got there, and went a 55-10 in his two seasons there. Mayo, who averaged 23.1 points per game as a seventh grader playing high school ball, had Rose Hill in the state tournament a year later.
Under the care of his grandfather, Dwaine Barnes, Mayo had gone to Kentucky to take advantage of the opportunity to play high school basketball early. Before entering ninth grade, he moved to Cincinnati, where he shares an apartment with his grandfather and uncle just a short walk from the North College Hill gym.
Mayo, a 6-foot-5 junior, averaged 28.8 points a game this season for the Trojans (25-1). North College Hill is the defending state champion in Division III.
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