Eastern Kentucky’s Nick Mayo shoots past the defense of Louisville’s Jaylen Johnson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Louisville, Ky., in 2016 (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Nick Mayo had a big decision to make. His junior season at Eastern Kentucky complete, with the Ohio Valley Conference tournament underway without the Colonels for the third straight season. Head coach Dan McHale had been fired two days after the season ended with a loss at Morehead State. The questions surrounding the Eastern Kentucky men’s basketball program only added to the questions Mayo already was asking himself?

Declare for the draft? Transfer to a school in a Power Five conference, where he’d have to sit out for a year?

“With Coach McHale getting fired, I was keeping all my options open,” Mayo said.

After talking with his parents, Scott and Jenn Mayo, new head coach AW Hamilton, and a whirlwind courtship from a handful of Power Five schools, Mayo decided to return to Eastern Kentucky for his senior season. Now, Mayo’s goal is two-pronged, get the Colonels into the conference tournament, and get ready to take his game to the professional level, whatever that may be.

“I’m glad I’m here,” Mayo, a three-time first team all-conference selection, said. “I expect to be playing. I don’t know where, but I’m shooting for the top.”


Hamilton isn’t shy when he assesses Mayo’s potential.

“I think he’s an NBA player,” Hamilton said. “I really mean this when I say I’m 100 percent certain we can put ‘NBA’ beside his name.”

After Saturday’s 90-85 loss to Northern Iowa in the second round of the Paradise Jam tournament in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, Mayo had 1,704 career points, fourth all-time at EKU and just 128 behind Matt Witt’s school record of 1,832. If Mayo maintains the 24.4 points per game average he’s had in the first five games of the season, he’ll pass Witt as the Colonels’ all-time scorer at Xavier on Dec. 15.

After his introductory press conference as the new men’s basketball coach at Eastern Kentucky University last March, Hamilton had to pack for a trip to Maine to meet with Scott and Jenn Mayo, the parents of Nick Mayo. A soon-to-be senior, Mayo was the most important player on the Colonels roster, and Hamilton knew he had to sell his vision of the team to the family.

“As soon as I got the job, Nick was the number one recruit I had,” Hamilton said. “We hit it off our first meeting. You see why kids are successful with families like that.”

“I had a good feel for (Hamilton). I could talk to him. I could tell he’s excited and he wants to be here,” Mayo said.


Hamilton’s up-tempo style, pressing all over the court, appealed to Mayo, as did the new coach’s plan to build the offense around getting Mayo more shots. Last season, Mayo averaged just over 12 shots per game. Hamilton wanted Mayo taking between 15 and 20 shots. In five games this season, Mayo averages just under 17 shots per game.

“I told him, ‘You’re going to have to be in the best shape of your life.’ I’m so proud of how hard he’s worked,” Hamilton said. “His motor never stops running. This style fits him. We’ve got to get him touches all over the floor. It’s good for him as he prepares to go to the next level.”

Hamilton wanted the 6-foot-9 Mayo to bulk up, so his body could handle the increased workload. Now playing at 250 pounds, Mayo’s new size paid off almost immediately, when he scored a career-high 40 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Colonels’ come from behind, 81-78 win at Chattanooga on Nov. 10. Mayo was 12 of 23 shooting, including 4 of 10 from 3-point range. After playing just eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, Mayo scored 35 of the Colonels’ 45 points in the second half.

“It was definitely a game we needed. We showed a lot of fight,” Mayo said. “I had my legs in the second half, and my teammates were able to get me the ball.”

“Coach (Hamilton) saw Nick was feeling it. It’s something you don’t see much. He hits big threes, he can get it in the post,” teammate Mason Cooper, a Lawrence High graduate, said. “I saw him do it to us in high school.”

Eastern Kentucky concludes its trip to the Virgin Islands with a game against Kennesaw State on Monday. The tough non-conference schedule continues after Thanksgiving with a game at No. 5 ranked Tennessee on Nov. 28. When the OVC schedule begins at Austin Peay on Jan. 3, Mayo expects the Colonels to be competitive.


“I expect us to win. We have a really tough non-conference schedule. We might not win those games, but the work will reflect in Ohio Valley Conference games,” Mayo said.

“He’s a sponge. He’s awesome to coach,” Hamilton said of Mayo. “I told the assistant coaches, we’ve got to enjoy every second we get to coach Nick.”


A redshirt freshman, Cooper expects this to be another season of growth and learning the college game.

“I still continue to get much stronger. I feel much more comfortable around the rim. I can drive by a guy. Last year I didn’t really have the confidence to do that,” Cooper, a 6-2 guard, said.

Hamilton said he likes Cooper’s versatility, noting he can play Cooper at either guard spot, and also at forward.

“Mason is probably the best teammate we have. He works his tail off. He’s the first guy at the shoot-around and he’ll be the last to leave,” Hamilton said. “He’s a do-it-all guy.”

Cooper saw his first playing time in Eastern Kentucky’s 107-52 win over Midway last Tuesday, scoring five points on 2 for 2 shooting in four minutes.

“I like Coach Hamilton. He’s been allowing us a chance to compete, and I appreciate that,” Cooper said.

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