Scott Mayo held up a pocket file. It was full, bulging enough that the elastic clasp holding it closed strained to do its job. Mayo gave the elastic a breather and opened the folder. Inside was just about every piece of correspondence his son Nick received from a Division I college basketball program. Mayo pulled out an envelope at random, and showed it to Nick.

“You didn’t even open up this one,” Scott Mayo said, sitting at the kitchen table of his Belgrade home.

Nick, 17 and a senior at Messalonskee High School, shrugged. It was easy to overlook a letter or two.

In mid-September, Nick Mayo decided he’ll attend and play basketball at Eastern Kentucky University. The decision ended a recruiting process that was as intense as it was brief. When Mayo ended the high school season in February, he was a prospect being looked at by many Division III schools in Maine. By mid-summer, the 6-foot-8 Mayo was being pursued by Division I schools from across the country.

“It happened fast, that’s for sure,” Mayo said. “If you asked me if this would happen a year ago, I wouldn’t have seen myself here right now with 10 Division I scholarship (offers).”

• • •

Nick Mayo had a good junior season at Messalonskee. He averaged 15.1 points per game and led the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference with 13.6 rebounds per game. He also led the league in blocks at 2.5 per game and shot 81 percent from the free throw line (68 for 84). Mayo was selected to the all-KVAC first team, and the Eagles went 13-6, reaching the regional quarterfinals.

Mayo began his high school career as a 6-1 freshman. As a 6-5 sophomore, he averaged a double-double. As Mayo continued to grow, so did his role on the Eagles.

“Nick is not a traditional 6-8 big man. He’s not a guy who just sits on the block,” Messalonskee boys basketball coach Peter McLaughlin said.

Mayo is a big man who can play the low post, or take his game to the perimeter and make a shot. The 3-pointer is a big part of his offensive game, and that skill is useful when opponents, as they often do, double team Mayo in the low post.

“What Nick has to offer is length, and the ability to shoot,” McLaughlin said. “We started to do it last year, get the ball in his hands and let him make decisions. We allow him to get in space and flourish.”

Still, until last spring, the recruiting attention Mayo received came from Maine’s Division III schools. It wasn’t until Mayo joined his AAU team, Maine Athletic Club, that he became focused on really advancing his basketball career.

Until last spring, Mayo split his athletic time between basketball and baseball. As a freshman, he was a member of Messalonskee’s state championship baseball team. He played first base and pitched for Babe Ruth teams that routinely did well at the New England regional tournament. When Mayo quit baseball early in the 2014 season, it wasn’t a decision he made lightly.

“(Spring) is that peak time as a basketball player. This is how it’s systematically done. That’s when all your exposure comes,” Scott Mayo said. “As much as he’s loved baseball, he couldn’t afford to go to a tournament and not be there Friday because he had a (baseball) practice or a game.”

After the basketball season, Mayo sat down with McLaughlin and discussed what would be the best steps to further his basketball career. If Mayo was serious, McLaughlin advised, he’d have to join an AAU team that would give him opportunities to play against some of the best competition in the Northeast, if not the country. For that, Mayo joined coach Carl Parker’s Maine Athletic Club.

“We felt really confident Coach Parker would put him in the best position to succeed,” McLaughlin said.

In Mayo, Parker, who also is head boys basketball coach at Nokomis Regional High School, saw a player who had been well-coached and had a wealth of potential.

“He’s a kid who has a great deal of talent. He has size, speed. He can play inside, outside. But I don’t know if he had the confidence to understand all the things he’s able to do,” Parker said. “Coach McLaughlin did a great job with improving Nick’s skill level.”

Playing for Parker meant Mayo worked on his game through a series of drills. Lots of shots went up. Lots of running to utilize the entire court.

“At practice, we’re always going, always moving. (Parker) doesn’t care how tall, how small, you’ve got to be able to shoot outside. I think his practices really helped,” Mayo said.

Mayo’s confidence began to assert itself in games. This past spring, he played well in tournaments in Boston and Springfield, Mass. The 6-8 kid from Maine scoring 30 points and grabbing 15 boards in the Boston Shootout began to attract attention. First, it was Division II schools, like St. Anselm and Stonehill. Then, Division I schools from the America East Conference — Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Albany — expressed interest in Mayo.

Then, Mayo and MAC went to Louisville.

“(Parker) really took the governor off Nick, is what I say,” Scott Mayo said. “He said, ‘This is where I think your potential is, now go out and get it.'”

• • •

Eastern Kentucky University is the defending champion of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Colonels went 24-10 last season, and as a 15 seed in the NCAA tournament, gave Kansas a scare in the second round. The Colonels led the Jayhawks by as many as nine points in the first half, and were tied, 32-32 at the half, before Kansas pulled away for an 80-69 win.

Under head coach Jeff Neubauer, EKU has played in four postseason tournaments in nine years, including two trips to the NCAA tourney. The Colonels were second in the nation last season in turnover margin, fifth in 3-pointers made per game, and sixth in steals. They are one of the stronger mid-major programs in the country.

Recruiting is part observation and part luck. Before he played in the Eddie Ford tournament and the AAU national championships in Louisville, Neubauer and his coaching staff had never heard of Nick Mayo.

Few of the coaches in attendance at the Louisville tournament had heard of Mayo. On the basketball court, he’s a late bloomer, and young. Mayo just turned 17 in August.

“(Coaches) looked at that very favorably. Nick’s young, with his skill set, they felt they could do a lot with it,” Scott Mayo said.

Along with EKU, Miami of Ohio began recruiting Mayo. Sanford, a school in Alabama, offered a scholarship. Schools closer to home like Northeastern and Quinnipiac, were interested. Eddie Ford himself was so enamored with Mayo’s game, he called his son, Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford, to tell him about the kid from Maine. Oklahoma State went to watch Mayo play.

The sudden attention caught the Mayo family off-guard. Jennifer Mayo, Nick’s mother, drove her son and some teammates to Kentucky for the tournament, and watched dozens of college coaches watch Nick play.

“I remember calling Scott and saying ‘I don’t know what’s happening, but this is crazy,'” Jennifer Mayo said.

“All of a sudden, it snowballs,” Parker said. “Recruiting is a funny thing. Nick continued to play better and better.”

Scott Mayo was able to get to Kentucky for the national championship tournament, and the family made an unofficial visit to EKU’s Richmond, Ky., campus. Talking to coaches at the Kentucky tournaments prepared the Mayo family for what would happen next, the barrage of phone calls, letters and text messages.

“It’s distracting. It’s the phone calls, it’s the texting … One of the things we were somewhat startled by, especially with Nick being 16, the amount of schools that initiate all that conversation directly with a 16-year old. It almost seems like the parent or the family was kind of bypassed,” Scott Mayo said. “From our perspective as parents, it was exciting when all the offers started rolling in. To us, it became hectic when we got home, trying to manage it. ”

Per NCAA rules, an athlete’s official visit to a school is paid for by the school. An unofficial visit is paid for by the family. Mayo made unofficial visits to a few schools, including Maine and New Hampshire. Mom took Mayo for an unofficial visit to Vermont. Dad took Nick for an unofficial visit to Northeastern.

Mayo made two official visits, first to Albany, then to Eastern Kentucky.

At Eastern Kentucky, Mayo sat down with Neubauer and studied film. The coach explained to Mayo how he would be used in the Colonels’ up-tempo offense by showing examples of how the team’s current big men with skills similar to Mayo’s are utilized. Mayo scrimmaged with the Colonels, and saw them receive their Ohio Valley Conference championship rings in a ceremony at a football game.

Mayo liked the campus, and he liked the school’s sports management program.

“I just had a feeling, I knew it was right,” Mayo said.

Before the family began talking to coaches, Scott and Jennifer discussed with Nick what they hoped to get out the process. When you talk to each coach, Scott and Jennifer said, does he focus on academics? When we visit schools, what are we looking for?

“We just followed his lead. We made sure he was looking for certain things,” Scott Mayo said. “As far as making a choice, we wanted to make sure academics were a strong component. As far as basketball, don’t worry about if Mom and Dad can make games. Don’t limit your goals.

“I wouldn’t have been comfortable with him going anywhere if my wife or I hadn’t had some experience with it. I wouldn’t have endorsed it until I or my wife had a chance to have eyes on it.”

When Scott and Jenifer saw Nick at EKU, they knew their son felt at home.

“When we saw him at EKU, we could tell by his body language what he was feeling about the school. It was very easy to see he was comfortable and relaxed and liked it,” Scott Mayo said.

Mayo verbally committed to EKU before he left campus. He’ll make his choice official when he signs his letter of intent Nov. 12. Mayo said he never had a date in mind before which he hoped to make his decision, but he’s glad he made it early.

“It’s just the way it worked out. I didn’t tell myself I had a date where I wanted to commit, it just happened like that,” Mayo said.

Now that the recruiting process is over, Mayo can focus on the upcoming high school basketball season. Mayo knows he’ll go into games with a target on his back. Every opponent will want to play well against the kid who is going Division I.

“We have a lot of talented players on our team. We’ll be young, but talent-wise, we’ll be good,” Mayo said. “Everyone’s going to help the team.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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