MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Back now with Day to Day. Here's a story now of two young basketball players. One from the streets of Compton, the other from the plush hills of Bel Air.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Both got scholarships to play at the University of Southern California next year. But many basketball insiders say only one of them really deserved it. KQED's Mr. Rob Schmitz reports.
ROB SCHMITZ: Jon Weinbach didn't get it. The Wall Street Journal reporter didn't understand how Romeo Miller was able to secure a coveted basketball scholarship to play division one ball at USC.
Mr. JON WEINBACH (Reporter, Wall Street Journal): Romeo Miller averaged eight points a game on a last place team and has an injured knee. And is going to be a full scholarship player in the Pac Ten at the University of Southern California. Those are credentials that most players don't have.
SCHMITZ: But Romeo has other credentials most players don't have.
(Soundbite of song "My Baby")
Mr. ROMEO MILLER: (Singing) They call me little P. I represent the CP3.
SCHMITZ: For one, the 18-year-old is a rapper known as Lil' Romeo. He broke on to the hip-hop scene as a pint sized 11-year-old.
(Soundbite of song "My Baby")
Mr. MILLER: (Singing)
I've been dribbling the ball since the age of three.
SCHMITZ: He's sold over a million albums, he's had a hit show on Nickelodeon. And he starred in several Hollywood movies. His father is rapper Percy Miller, best known as Master P, a wealthy hip-hop mogul. Both father and son love basketball. Master P unsuccessfully tried out for NBA teams in the 90s. For years he's coached his son in an off-season club team. And that's how the Millers befriended a young basketball prodigy from Compton by the name of DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan later turned out to be one of the nation's hottest basketball prospects, says the Wall Street Journal's Weinbach.
Mr. WEINBACH: But as DeMar's star rose, Romeo and his father managed to kind of align themselves - I guess is the best way of putting it, with his rising star.
SCHMITZ: Last year, after Romeo and DeMar played a tournament together in Arkansas, Master P telephoned USC basketball coach, Tim Floyd.
Mr. TIM FLOYD (Basketball Coach, USC): Percy Miller called me and said would you like to have Romeo and DeMar? And I said why sure, I'd love to have them.
SCHMITZ: Basketball insiders question giving a wealthy mediocre player like Romeo on of USC's 13 allotted basketball scholarships. After the controversy surfaced, nobody was talking. Not Master P. Not Romeo. Not DeMar DeRozan. But it sure has been the talk of the town among basketball insiders.
Mr. BOB GIBBONS (Talent Scout): I think Tim Floyd did what he had to do to get - to recruit an all-American prospect, namely DeMar DeRozan. And it cost him two scholarships.
SCHMITZ: That's Bob Gibbons, one of the country's most respected high-school talent scouts. Gibbons admits he's never seen Romeo play, but his colleague Mr. Rob Matera has.
Mr. ROB MATERA (Talent Scout): I thought he played poorly. I thought he was one of the worst players in the camp.
SCHMITZ: Matera saw Romeo play at the ABCD Camp, where the nation's best high school players are evaluated by talent scouts. The director of the camp later admitted to the Wall Street Journal that he had invited Romeo as a favor to Master P. USC basketball coach Tim Floyd rebuffs critics who say Romeo isn't good enough to play college-ball.
Mr. FLOYD: Beauty's in the eye of the beholder in this - I happen to like some things about Romeo in terms of what he can do for the University of Southern California. Then that's our option. That's the beauty of being a college basketball coach. You can build your program any way you want to build it.
MASTER P. (Romeo Miller's Father): I just want to say a couple of words about Romeo and DeMar.
SCHMITZ: Last fall Romeo Miller and DeMar DeRozan announced their scholarships at a press conference organized by Master P's public relations firm. At the time, talent scouts acknowledged DeRozan as one of the top five college recruits in the nation. Despite that, Master P made sure his media-savvy son received top billing at the event.
MASTER P: And even in real life this kid's been playing basketball since the age of four.
SCHMITZ: DeMar DeRozan's older brother Jermaine, says his brother, not Romeo, should have been the star of the show. Last summer the DeRozan brothers fought after DeMar chose to play on Master P's team instead of a team Jermaine was helping to coach. DeRozan compares Master P to a snake, saying the hip-hop star had a psychological hold over his brother.
Mr. JERMAINE DEROZAN (DeMar DeRozan's Brother): When you come from - well, we came from Compton - you know - and then all of a sudden flashing lights are in front of you, it's hard to not see it. You become a dominant player and then somebody sees that opportunity, it's called an opportunist. You know what I mean? And that's how I think Percy Miller got most of his stuff anyway, you know what I mean? Because, you know he's a hustler.
SCHMITZ: Jermaine claims Master P even hustled ESPN. In this interview, courtesy of ESPN, Master P had grand predictions for his son.
MASTER P: This kid could go to USC and then take his game to the NBA. It would be everything that I wish that I could have did, because you know I gave it a good shot. But I think Romeo definitely will make it to the NBA.
SCHMITZ: Jermaine DeRozan said he couldn't believe Master P would make such grandiose claims on the country's largest sports network.
Mr. DEROZAN: On ESPN man. Everybody - my phone was blowing out. Everybody saying is this a joke? They saying what you're talking about, DeMar? Hey, Romeo. - Romeo?! What are you talking about my man, get out of here dude.
SCHMITZ: In the end, USC's deal to get DeMar DeRozan and Romeo Miller might be a marketing work of genius. Its basketball team has worked hard to secure talented players like O.J. Mayo in order to fill seats at its newly constructed arena. Wall Street Journal's, Jon Weinbach.
Mr. WEINBACH: L.A. is an incredibly crowded sports marketplace. You got the Lakers. You got USC football. UCLA basketball. The Dodgers. The Angels. You got to do something to stand out. And so, he got O.J. Mayo, he's got a new arena, and now he's got DeMar DeRozan and a rap star. And in a city like Los Angeles, where sports and celebrity meet at a crossroads, this deal may make sense in some strange way. If Lil' Romeo doesn't get any court time, may be USC could use his other talents. It'd probably make for an entertaining half-time show. For NPR News, I'm Rob Schmitz, in Los Angeles.
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