Mayo’s college basketball route takes coaching turn

Messalonskee's Nick Mayo puts up a shot against Hampden Academy's Ian McIntyre (center) and Jake Black during a game last December. (BDN File Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

Messalonskee’s Nick Mayo puts up a shot against Hampden Academy’s Ian McIntyre (center) and Jake Black during a game last December. (BDN File Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

The whirlwind romance between Messalonskee of Oakland basketball star Nick Mayo and a Division I basketball future went in an unanticipated direction this week.

Mayo’s prospective college coach, Jeff Neubauer, left his job at head coach at Eastern Kentucky University after 10 years Monday for a similar post at Fordham.

Neubauer certainly earned the promotion — at least in a conference sense from the Ohio Valley ranks to the higher-profile Atlantic 10 — based on his tenure with the Colonels.

His EKU teams won 101 games during the last five years alone, including a school-record 25 victories in 2012-13. The Colonels then went on to earn an NCAA tournament bid in 2014 that produced a narrow second-round loss to perennial powerhouse Kansas.

This year EKU went 21-12 and reached the Postseason Tournament quarterfinals.

But such coaching changes inevitably produce uncertainty at the school left behind, uncertainty for the coaching staff left behind and the most veteran of returning players.

So incoming recruits of the former coach can’t help but what wonder what’s next for them, too, and that’s where Mayo, the 6-foot-8-inch forward recently named Maine’s 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year, resides for the short term.

Mayo emerged on the regional recruiting scene a year ago with prolific performances throughout the AAU basketball season. That effort was capped off by an eye-opening appearance at the AAU 11th-Grade National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, last July that spawned some national interest.

One of those later entries in the Mayo recruiting sweepstakes was Eastern Kentucky, which like the other eight Division I schools that made scholarship offers saw the versatility of a power forward with 3-point shooting range who has drawn comparisons to the likes of former Maine high school standouts Nik Caner-Medley of Portland’s Deering High School and T.J. Caouette of Winthrop.

Both went on to Division I college careers of their own, Caner-Medley at Maryland and Caouette at Villanova.

Mayo subsequently visited EKU’s Richmond, Kentucky, campus and returned home with good memories of his overall Kentucky experiences — his Maine Athletic Club team finished 11th of 99 teams at the Louisville nationals.

Less than two months later he made a verbal commitment to return to the Bluegrass State for college, and in November he signed his National Letter of Intent with the Colonels.

“It’s a great school, a great coaching staff and great players. I just had a really fun time,” said Mayo of EKU after making his verbal commitment. “It just felt right.”

Six months later, much of that statement undoubtedly remains the same to Mayo — save for one big difference.

Little has come out about a potential successor to Neubauer, but school officials said a national search would begin immediately.

Perhaps EKU will look inward to a top assistant like Austin Newton, a former Colonels’ point guard who has served on Neubauer’s staff for the last seven years and on Tuesday was named the team’s interim head coach.

Or the school could turn to a current college head coach looking to take that same step up the career ladder Neubauer took by leaving for Fordham.

That decision will have repercussions all the way to central Maine, where Nick Mayo now plays his own waiting game.

Hopefully for his sake the next EKU coach will see the same qualities in Mayo that Neubauer and the other Division I coaches who pursued him last summer did.

After watching him back up his AAU efforts with a dominant senior season of high school competition this winter, it’s hard to believe they won’t.


Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.