Nick Mayo came away from the Portsmouth Invitational feeling like he made a good impression. Neutral observers came away from the tournament, which features 64 of the top senior college basketball players in the country, impressed with Mayo’s play in Virginia, too.

“He looked like one of the better players at Portsmouth,” said Sam Meyerkopf of NextStep Basketball, a company that works with foreign basketball clubs in scouting American players. “He was shooting and passing well. He looked so confident and succinct.”

A Messalonskee High School graduate, Mayo recently completed a standout college career at Eastern Kentucky, where he was a four-time first team all-Ohio Valley Conference selection. Mayo set the Eastern Kentucky program record for career points with 2,316 points. Mayo finished the season ranked second in the conference and 10th in the nation in scoring, averaging 23.7 points per game.

With that strong career completed, Mayo earned a spot in the Portsmouth Invitational. Mayo played three games in front of scouts representing every NBA team, as well as a number of European teams and averaged 14.3 points, and got better with each game. In Game 1, Mayo scored 10 points with three rebounds. He followed that with a 14 point, six rebound, three steal effort. Mayo closed the tournament with a game-high 19 point effort, with three rebounds, one assist, three blocks and a steal.

For the tournament, Mayo shot 53.6 percent from the floor (15 for 28) including an eye-catching 6 for 8 from 3-point range. Mayo said he was nervous at first, but settled down as he began to play basketball.

“Once I got out there and got going I was good,” Mayo said in a phone interview from Las Vegas, where he is training and waiting to hear if he’ll be invited to the NBA combine. “I played three games, and each game I felt a little better.”

According to a news release from Eastern Kentucky, all 64 players who participated in the 2018 Portsmouth Invitational have played professional basketball in the past year, and 14 signed with an NBA team.

Jeremy Woo covers the NBA draft for Sports Illustrated. Covering the Portsmouth Invitational was Woo’s first time seeing the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Mayo play.

“I was surprised at how big (Mayo) is. His shoulders are so wide,” Woo said. “I don’t think he hurt himself… He definitely has a skill set. He’s a little more athletic than I thought.”

Mayo entered Portsmouth as a relatively unknown player. Eastern Kentucky never had a winning record in his four seasons and failed to qualify for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in each of Mayo’s seasons. After playing well against strong competition, Meyerkopf thinks Mayo raised his profile.

“I think that was a question mark coming in, was (Mayo) a decent player on a bad team,” Meyerkopf said. “I think he answered those questions.”

“I think I shot the ball well. I was efficient. I showed I can stretch the floor, space the floor,” Mayo said.

Mayo signed with agent Ben Pensack and Pensack Sports Management, a San Francisco-based firm specialized in representing professional basketball players. Mayo said deciding on an agent was similar to selecting a college four years ago. As it was when he choose to attend Eastern Kentucky, signing with Pensack just felt right, Mayo said.

“It just felt like Ben could put me in the best situation. He’s had a lot of success with guys like me. Guys under the radar, with an underdog mentality,” Mayo said.

As well as he played in Portsmouth, Mayo still faces an uphill climb to the NBA. The draft is only two rounds. That’s 60 players picked, with many more vying for free agent contracts and invitations to summer league teams and training camps. Both Woo and Meyerkopf said Mayo is still a longshot to get drafted by an NBA team.

“His limitations will come defensively,” Woo said of Mayo’s game. “He’s big, with that inside-out versatility. It never hurts, wherever he ends up.”

Added Meyerkopf: “I still think he’s a tough fit for the NBA. He’ll definitely make a summer league roster… Would it be crazy for him to get an invite to an NBA camp? No.”

Meyerkopf compared Mayo to Portland native Nik Caner-Medley. After finishing his collegiate playing career at Maryland, Caner-Medley played in the NBA Summer League for a handful of teams and enjoyed a long and successful career playing professional basketball in Europe.

“I spoke to some European GMs and they said (Mayo) could fit their teams,” Meyerkopf said.

In Las Vegas, Mayo is training with other draft hopefuls. He said he expects Pensack to pass along feedback from scouts soon.

“I need to work on being aggressive and getting rebounds,” Mayo said. “I’m just trying to make a name for myself.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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