Nick Mayo made a tough decision last spring when he left the Messalonskee of Oakland baseball team to focus on basketball.

It turned out to be an astute move, because the exposure he gained while competing on the AAU circuit this spring and summer led to nine NCAA Division I scholarship offers.

Mayo pared that list to one Sunday morning when he verbally committed to attend Eastern Kentucky University beginning with the 2015-16 school year.

“I wouldn’t have believed it if this was last year,” said the 17-year-old Mayo, now a senior at Messalonskee. “I didn’t really have any contacts with any schools back then, but I just put a lot of hard work in and [AAU coach Carl] Parker definitely helped me out a lot, and having a successful AAU team in the tournaments helped, too.”

The 6-foot-8-inch forward from Belgrade earned Bangor Daily News All-Maine honorable mention and first-team All-Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference recognition last winter after averaging 14.7 points and 13.4 rebounds for coach Pete McLaughlin’s Messalonskee club, which advanced to the Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinals.

But it was his full-time commitment to the AAU ranks and performances at both regional tournaments and national championship events at Louisville, Kentucky, in July that heightened interest in Mayo among collegiate recruiters.

Mayo was first contacted by Eastern Kentucky coaches while competing for Parker’s Maine Athletic Club 17-and-under team in the Eddie Ford Hoopfest tournament that immediately preceded the AAU Division I 11th-Grade National Championships.

Mayo took an unofficial tour of EKU’s Richmond, Kentucky, campus, and by the time he left the Bluegrass State after helping the MAC squad to an 11th-place finish at the 99-team nationals, he had the Colonels’ scholarship offer in hand.

“He kept progressing and playing well and getting better and better, and then we went to Kentucky and we played 13 games there and he played extremely well,” said Parker. “I think there was only one game when he didn’t finish in double figures, he averaged 20 points a game and 12 or 13 rebounds a game.

“He played against people who were being recruited by southern schools, and four or five of those southern schools saw him play against a kid that they had offered and felt he was better, and it just spread after that.”

Mayo made subsequent unofficial visits to the University of Maine, Vermont and Northeastern and official visits to the University at Albany two weekends ago and Eastern Kentucky last weekend before making his decision.

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

Eastern Kentucky finished 24-10 last winter, winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship and advancing to the NCAA Division I tournament before being eliminated in the second round by Kansas 80-69.

Combined with a school-record 25 victories in 2012-13, coach Jeff Neubauer’s Colonels have amassed 49 wins over the last two seasons — and Mayo hopes to help EKU add to that success when he joins the program in a year.

“[Nick’s] very athletic, runs the court extremely well, and has a frame that he can probably put 25 or 30 pounds on and not lose any of his athleticism,” said Parker. “He can step out and shoot the ball. He probably shot over 50 percent from [the 3-point line] for us and in the big games in Kentucky probably had two 3’s in every game and in some games he had more.”

That ability to stretch the floor with the 3-point shot may have been just one more quality that attracted Eastern Kentucky, which last season ranked fifth among NCAA Division I programs in 3-point field goals per game. EKU has led the Ohio Valley Conference in 3-pointers five of the last six years.

“The idea that Nick can post up and can step out for the 3 and is an athlete who when he was in Kentucky was still 16 — he didn’t turn 17 until August 18 — when you start looking at the totality of things it caused a lot of people to be excited,” Parker said.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is 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...