Zeke Mayo ready to step up as a leader

Sophomore guard bound for larger role after key departures from last season


Joclyn Haven

Guard Zeke Mayo celebrates after winning the Summit League Tournament in a 75-69 win over North Dakota State March 8 at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls. May had 12 points in the win.

Evan Patzwald, Co-Sports Editor

The Jackrabbit men’s basketball team’s season tipped off Monday, and with some key departures after last season, no one is ready to step into a leadership role more than sophomore Zeke Mayo.

Mayo was a true freshman a season ago and was the only freshman named to the Summit League All-Newcomer Team after averaging 9.6 points per game and starting in 21 of 35 games.

Now, he has gone from newcomer to being named to the preseason Summit League All-First Team, along with teammate Luke Appel.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting first team at all,” Mayo said. “All glory to God, I’m blessed to be on the first team, and now it’s just my job to go prove that I should be on that list.”

Last year’s two top leading scorers, Baylor Scheierman and Douglas Wilson, are no longer part of the program, with Wilson graduating and Scheierman testing the NBA Draft waters before transferring to Creighton. With those two gone, Mayo is bound for a bigger role.

With a year of experience, Mayo is already becoming more vocal with the newcomers on the team.

“I have the experience and I’m comfortable with our staff and our other players,” said the 6-3 guard.  “They look at me as a leader at this point and just knowing I can be that vocal guy and making sure that I take care of not only myself, but the team as well has really helped during the summer.”


In August, the team traveled to the Bahamas for five days as part of an international trip the NCAA allows every four years. While there, the Jacks played exhibition games against the Egyptian National Team and the Bahamas National Team.

“We got tested down there and both teams played really, really physical, so that’s something our team needs to work on,” Mayo said. “Just getting used to that physicality, but other than that, we looked good on both ends of the floor.”

Mayo also made improvements in his work ethic and in his commitment to getting better every time he steps on the floor, according to coach Eric Henderson.

“I think he knew that his role was going to be increased this year, and so I just was really proud of his mental approach to those opportunities,” Henderson said.

Guard Alex Arians is in his sixth season with the Jacks. He thinks that with the number of new players on the team, Mayo really stepped up over the summer in helping them transition to the college game.

“He’s been really vocal with the young guys with where they need to be, spots on defense, offense, just a bunch of everything,” Arians said. “He puts a lot of time into his game, and you can really see it on the court.”


Mayo grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, the home of the Kansas Jayhawks. His family has been Jayhawks fans his whole life, but for Mayo he was never really a huge fan of the team itself.

The overall success and following of the program are what gave him motivation to be a successful basketball player and is glad he ended up committing to the Jackrabbits.

“At the end of the day, I’m proving to not only myself, but to those major programs and teams like KU, where I was in their backyard, that they could’ve came and got me,” Mayo said. “But I’m here now and doing my own thing and succeeding.”

Growing up, Mayo played not only basketball, but football and baseball as well. He put all of his focus onto basketball when he got to high school because he knew what he was best at. He also credits his father, as he introduced him to play basketball at a young age.

“He just believed in me since the beginning,” Mayo said about his dad, who is also his biggest inspiration. “He’s also prepared me, allowing me to play up a grade or two my entire life. That’s what prepared me coming into college, playing older veterans as a freshman. He’s definitely supported me the most through my entire career.”

Prior to his recruitment by SDSU, Mayo wasn’t very familiar with the program, but he knew of them. He said he remembered the Jacks coming to play the Jayhawks a few times when he was a kid but recognized them more from their appearances in the NCAA Tournament in recent years.

Former assistant coach Tramel Barnes was one of the first guys to contact Mayo and started his recruitment, Henderson said. After those initial conversations, Henderson stepped in and began to build a relationship with Mayo.

The recruitment process was a bit difficult because it was during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, so most of the communications occurred over the phone and on Zoom.

“I talked with Zeke certainly about basketball, but also what his goals are, what his other interests he has so that there’s a trust factor there,” Henderson said. “I really enjoyed our conversations and obviously, he really enjoyed ours.”


Mayo’s freshman season had its highs and lows, like any other year, but he really started to show flashes when he was inserted into the starting lineup Dec. 22 vs. Oral Roberts. His overall minutes increased, and he averaged 10.6 points on 46.7% shooting during Summit League play.

Not only did Mayo improve individually, but the team did as well as the Jacks won 20 straight games after he was given the starting nod until their loss in the NCAA Tournament against Providence.

Henderson asked if Mayo was ready for the opportunity as a true freshman and Mayo made the most of his new role.

“It was definitely a huge deal for me,” Mayo said. “Coach had a sit down with me and wanted to make sure I was ready for that moment. It’s basketball at the end of the day, and coming in and knowing my role and playing my role was important.”

The Jacks made the NCAA Tournament after winning a program-record 30 games, including 21 games in a row and winning the Summit League Tournament for the first time since 2018. Although they lost to Providence in the first round, it was still a successful season.

“Since it was my first year, I had never experienced anything like that before, but it was an amazing experience,” Mayo said of playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Along with basketball, Mayo also has taken advantage of the new ability that student athletes have to profit off their name, image and likeness. Campus Ink, a clothing store, started investing in student athletes to make money off their own merchandise and reached out to Mayo last March about his own apparel.

The company came up with the designs for T-shirts, and they went viral once they were released.

“I made quite the amount of money on that,” Mayo said. “I can’t really thank anyone except my support system and the company that really believed in me and put some change in my pocket. It especially helped being a college student.”

While Mayo does not currently have any merchandise out right now, when he does, he plans on giving a percentage of the proceeds on his next apparel to hurricane recovery funds.

Mayo made his season debut in the Jacks’ opening game loss Monday night at Akron. Mayo was one of five Jacks’ players in double figures, with 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. He also had seven rebounds in the 81-80 overtime thriller.

Mayo and the Jacks now travel to Boise, Idaho to play Boise State at 8 p.m. Wednesday. Their first home game will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 19 as they host Stephen F. Austin.

“I think we do a lot of individual skill development stuff in the summer and sometimes it’s easier for young players to not approach that as nearly as focused as a real practice,” Henderson said. “What I really noticed about Zeke was he really embraced those moments to get better and work on his game and become the player he is today.”