COLUMBUS, Ohio — LeBron James is helping Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor learn how to handle everything that comes with being a celebrity athlete.
“(I'm) trying to mentor him and get him through 'life in the spotlight,' which I've been through,” James said after a preseason game in Columbus on Wednesday night.
James said he has been speaking to Pryor on the phone in recent weeks to try to help him deal with celebrity at a young age. James knows something about that, since he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the headline “The Chosen One” while he was still in high school in Akron, Ohio.
“Being that No. 1 guy, how do you adjust to it and how do you get through it and still perform at a high level?” James said. “Sometimes it can be very difficult on (a young athlete). I'm trying to be that guy who can really help him get through a lot of situations which he's never seen before but now he's seeing and understanding.”
Pryor has been under fire from Ohio State fans after throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles in the then-No. 7 ranked Buckeyes' stunning 26-18 loss at Purdue last week. They tumbled to No. 18 this week, and meet Minnesota on Saturday.
Adding to the pressure surrounding Pryor, his high school coach in Jeannette, Pa., said this week that Ohio State's offense is not maximizing Pryor's abilities. In a story which first appeared on ESPN.com, Ray Reitz said his former charge looks like “a robot” in Ohio State's offense.
Reitz even said Rich Rodriguez's spread offense at rival Michigan would have been a much better fit for Pryor, who chose the Buckeyes over the Wolverines.
Pryor made a surprise appearance before reporters on Wednesday night and appeared more relaxed than he had in interviews previously. He readily answered questions and spoke with conviction about the problems he has encountered.
“I came here to be a quarterback, and for the rest of the season, we're going to be pretty darn good,” the 20-year-old said. “I don't know why (Reitz) would say something like that. I wouldn't trade where I'm at right now.”
Another Cavaliers star, center Shaquille O'Neal, also had words of encouragement for Pryor after Cleveland lost to the Boston Celtics in an exhibition game on Wednesday night.
Talking about his first visit to Columbus, O'Neal said, “It's a very energetic crowd. I'm familiar with Ohio State football, of course. I know they're always up there (in the rankings). I just want to tell the quarterback to keep his head up. I saw that they're getting on him the last two games. Keep your head up, young man, and try to get this football team back on track.”
The Buckeyes (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) have had difficulty moving the ball most of the season. That problem has been particularly evident in the last two games. Ohio State had only one sustained drive two weeks ago, but was saved in a 31-13 victory over Wisconsin because the defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns and the Buckeyes also benefited from a kickoff return for a score.
Last week against Purdue, Ohio State scored early on a Pryor run but then could not move the ball for most of the rest of the game. The Boilermakers, two-touchdown underdogs who came in having won just one of their first six games, built a big lead and held on for the upset.
Pryor has 11 turnovers so far this year — eight interceptions and three fumbles — almost double the number he had a year ago when he was handed the starting job by head coach Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes went on to win eight of the next 10 games with Pryor playing most of the time, but even then Pryor and the offense played in fits and starts.
Pryor said the bad game at Purdue had helped open his eyes.
“That opened me up to the world and opened me up to myself and who I am as a person,” Pryor said. “I think maybe that was the best thing to happen to us last week. Maybe we'll learn from it. We're having real good practices, and we're just trying to get the fans back on our side.”
James said someone asked him to speak with Pryor.
“Well, I've known him for a few years, but our relationship started maybe a few months ago, when I was contacted on if it was possible for me to reach out to the kid,” James said. “It was a no-brainer of course. Our relationship has grown within the last couple of months. I try to keep up on him on game days. I wish him luck and throughout the week.”
Now 24, James is in his seventh season in the NBA. He was one of the most acclaimed high school athletes of all time, then became an icon through both his abilities on the court and his marketing acumen. James has made few missteps in his professional and business careers.
He said that when he speaks to Pryor, he speaks from experience.
“At the end of the day, there's a lot more than just football and basketball,” he said. “Because I know. I've seen it all. From a prep kid, I was very high (in terms of celebrity), and then I was a professional. So I've seen it all.”
Reitz said the Buckeyes coaching staff — Tressel oversees the offense — is restricting Pryor too much. He also said that Ohio State had assured Pryor he would be taught how to run a pro-style offense but instead has been handed an offense that doesn't fit his abilities.
Pryor said he has been affected by all the attention he has gotten.
“Let's be real. If any of us were the quarterback at Ohio State, and you've got all these people around you, you're sort of like a superstar,” he said. “And you start maybe thinking too much maybe of yourself and losing your head a little bit and losing focus.”