Chiba Jets forward Nick Mayo prepares to take a shot during a game last season. Mayo, a former Messalonskee and Eastern Kentucky standout, had been playing for the Jets in Japan’s professional B.League before it suspended operations because of the coronavirus pandemic. Contributed photo

When they sell t-shirts adorned with a cartoon version of you, it’s safe to call you a fan favorite. Nick Mayo is now playing for Levanga Hokkaido in the top Japanese professional basketball league, and Mayo swag is available wherever Levanga fans want to stock up on team merch.

“It’s pretty cool. The fans out here are awesome and show crazy support,” Mayo said in an email. “The merch is pretty sweet, the team and fans have shown a lot of love for me this season.”

A graduate of Messalonskee High School, the 6-foot-8 Mayo joined the Chiba Jets of the Japanese league last season after completing a standout college career at Eastern Kentucky University. Mayo has played in 17 of 21 Hokkaido games so far this season, missing four to injury, and has established himself as a leader on the team. In his last game, a 77-71 loss to the Hitachi Sun Rockers on Dec. 9, Mayo had 20 points and five rebounds. In an 82-76 win over Niigata Albriex on Nov. 15, Mayo scored a professional high 37 points, with six rebounds and three assists.

Mayo leads Levanga Hokkaido in scoring, averaging 22.2 points per game and rebounding (8.1 rpg).  Mayo’s scoring average is almost eight points per game higher than in his rookie season. He averages two and a half more rebounds per game than he did as a rookie. To Mayo, his improved play is a sign of his greater comfort level.

“Last season I got to understand the style of play and got to know other players and teams, which has helped me competing this season. I knew what the season would be like from every aspect so I feel more mentally and physically prepared,” Mayo said. “(I’m) also just trying to be more aggressive and do what I’m capable of doing. The adjustment wasn’t bad. We have a really good group and I enjoy being around the team.”

Levanga Hokkaido is based in Sapporo, the largest city on Japan’s northern island Hokkaido, and the fifth-largest city in the country with a population of approximately 1.9 million. With restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Mayo said he hasn’t been able to explore the city as much as he’d like.

“All my Japanese teammates say they wish there wasn’t a pandemic because they want to show me more of Sapporo,” Mayo said.

The team is not in a bubble, Mayo said, but attendance at games is limited.

“That being said, there is still hundreds of fans at every game,” Mayo said. “Our team is very far from others so we always have to take public planes and trains to travel.”

Levanga Hokkaido is struggling. Through Tuesday’s games the team was 4-17 and in 18th place in the 20-team league. Still, Mayo’s play has made him a fan favorite. Already having a season in Japan in which he was able to learn a little about the culture helped make the transition to a new team easier after his contract was not renewed by the Chiba Jets following last season, which was shortened because of the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“My Japanese is still very limited. It’s a tough language to learn but I find myself more comfortable with the limited words or phrases when speaking Japanese. Of course my teammates try and teach me easy sayings for day-to-day talk, like I do for them with English,” Mayo said.

The team is losing a lot of close games, four of the team’s recent six losses were by six or fewer points, but Mayo is encouraged by the team’s play. If Mayo can help turn Levanga Hokkaido’s fortunes around, and his Japenese improves as much as his game, it’s only a matter of time before Mayo finds his likeness on more souvenirs.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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