Messalonskee High School graduate Nick Mayo hadn’t played a minute of basketball for Eastern Kentucky University, yet last week he was profiled on Lexington television station WTVQ. The Eastern Kentucky athletic department hyped Mayo through its men’s basketball Twitter account, tweeting over the weekend, “Colonel fans should get to know @Nickmayo24 (Mayo’s Twitter handle). The freshman has game.”

Mayo, a 6-foot-9 forward, takes all the attention in stride.

“I’m just looking forward to playing against different teams and different players, traveling to different places,” Mayo said.

When Eastern Kentucky opens the season Friday night against Coppin State, there’s a good chance Mayo will be in the starting lineup. Mayo started and played well in a 97-66 exhibition victory Sunday over Union College (Ky.). Mayo scored 17 points while going 8-for-11 from the field with four rebounds, a block, an assist and two steals in a team-high 23 minutes.

“He didn’t take a bad shot,” Eastern Kentucky head coach Dan McHale said. “He did a lot of good things.”

If he doesn’t start, Mayo won’t be on the bench for long.

“My bigs, I have two freshmen and a sophomore,” McHale said. “They have to play. I only have three of them.”

Last season at Messalonskee, Mayo averaged 24.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 3.0 blocks per game in leading the Eagles to the Eastern Class A semifinals. Mayo committed to Eastern Kentucky in September before the high school season began.

When Jeff Neubauer — the head coach who recruited Mayo to Eastern Kentucky — accepted the head coaching job at Fordham University, Mayo and the other recruits were kept up to date on the search for a new coach. When he met McHale, Mayo knew he was in good hands. McHale, a former Louisville assistant who spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota, was equally impressed with Mayo.

“I was just pleasantly surprised with his overall attitude and how great a kid he is. What impressed me was how well-rounded Nick is,” McHale said. “When we worked him out on the court, we realized we (had) something special here. He’s the total package and he’s only going to get better.”

McHale was also impressed with Mayo’s poise Sunday.

“He plays like he’s a senior. To go out there and play in front of a large crowd for the first time, his poise was incredible,” McHale said.

“We had a really good game (Sunday). We came out with a lot of energy. It was a good game for all of us,” Mayo added.

Mayo arrived on the Richmond, Kentucky campus in the summer to begin working out with his new team. Richmond is approximately 25 miles southeast of Lexington.

“It’s kind of quiet, like back home. I like it,” Mayo said.

With the Colonels, Mayo will play forward and — like in high school — his offensive game will come in the paint and on the perimeter. To become a better post player, Mayo is working extensively with associate head coach Michael Bradley. The No. 17 pick in the 2001 NBA draft, Bradley played five seasons in the NBA. A Worcester, Massachusetts native, Bradley was a member of Kentucky’s 1998 national title team before finishing his college basketball career at Villanova.

Each day in practice, Mayo and Bradley work on post moves and defense.

“(Bradley’s) a really big help and a really good person,” Mayo said. “I’m adjusting to playing at this pace and playing with a better caliber of players.”

“They’re a couple New England guys down here in Kentucky,” McHale added. “Mike can give his experience winning the national championship and in the NBA.”

In the preseason coaches’ poll, the Colonels were predicted to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference East Division. Eastern Kentucky went 21-12 last season, reaching the quarterfinals of the postseason tournament. The Colonels went to the NCAA tournament in 2014, losing to Kansas in the second round.

Among the opponents Mayo and the Colonels will face is national title contender Kentucky on Dec. 9.

“I’m excited. If I’m starting or coming off the bench, it doesn’t really matter to me,” Mayo said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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