New KU guard Zeke Mayo once scored 41 points in a game: ‘Instincts kind of kicked in’

High-scoring South Dakota State junior combo guard Zeke Mayo heard from “13 to 15 schools” on March 26, the day he placed his name in an already-crowded NCAA men’s basketball transfer portal.

The first coach to ring his cell phone was Bill Self of Kansas.

“It was very personal. He tried to get me to understand how bad Kansas really wanted me, needed me I guess you could say. He kind of touched on the fact they were lacking shooting, scoring ability,” Mayo, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound Lawrence High School graduate, said on this week’s Rock Chalk Unplugged podcast hosted by former KU basketball players Mitch Lightfoot and Chris Teahan.

A natural scorer who averaged 18.8 points a game this past season and 18.2 ppg in 2022-23, Mayo, who wound up being contacted by “22 to 25” schools in all, enthusiastically accepted a scholarship offer from Self at the conclusion of his KU campus visit on April 2.

“Coach Self had the words of affirmation to get me to come home,” Mayo stated.

Words of affirmation certainly included giving a future green light to Mayo, who hit 46.6% of his shots this past season for the Jackrabbits (22-13). The 2024 Summit League Player of the Year and two-time first-team all-league selection went 92-of-235 from 3 for a healthy 39.1%.

Here’s a look at some of Mayo’s accomplishments on the offensive end at South Dakota State.

He scored 25 or more points in seven games during the 2023-24 season, including a 35-point outing against rival North Dakota State.

In his sophomore season, Mayo scored 30 or more points in four games, his career-high 41-point performance coming in a 90-85 win again over N.D. State. In that game he hit 14 of 25 shots and was 6-of-9 from 3. Mayo went 7-of-8 from the line with five assists to no turnovers in 40 minutes.

It was the second-most points scored at Frost Arena in Brookings, South Dakota, and the eighth 40-point game in Jackrabbits history.

“Obviously that game was very, very intense, very close. It was a game my instincts kind of kicked in,” Mayo said, adding, “I had to take over that game if we wanted to win. Shots were falling. When shots are falling you continue to shoot. They were falling that night.”

Mayo’s career high in 3s is seven against Denver. He took 14 shots beyond the arc that game.

“One thing I think I can specifically help on is shooting obviously,” Mayo said. “I shot the ball at almost a 40% clip on high-volume shots. Offense is going to come. I feel offense is my strongest ability but defense is going to pay dividends.”

Mayo is not only a willing shooter, but passer. He had 123 assists to 40 turnovers while averaging 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists last season. At KU he figures to play next to senior-to-be Dajuan Harris, who dished 221 assists against 80 turnovers in 2023-24 for the Jayhawks (23-11).

“I’m looking forward to getting a perspective from him and working on our games together, working on playing alongside him,” Mayo said. “You want to play alongside a guy like that who can dish out six, seven assists a night. That just means more opportunities for me on the floor. Whether we are spread out or whether that’s back-cuts, he’s going to find me. I’m ready to play with him. I know he’s got the IQ, the highest of the highs. I’m ready to get out there and hoop.”

Mayo realizes some may be wondering if a player from a mid-major school is ready to contribute at a blue-blood powerhouse such as Kansas.

“As a mid-major player, you feel like you are one of the top in the country and you are displaying it on a nightly basis. Of course you feel you can go somewhere and still do what you are doing, but you also have got to understand reality,” Mayo said. “There are players who have been there (high-major level) multiple years and who are also at the top of their class. The role might not be the same, (but) you are going to go there and look to produce.”

He said the offseason will be dedicated to “getting stronger, faster, working hard at those two kind of things and becoming a floor general alongside of Dajuan.”

He knows Self-coached teams stress defense.

“The Big 12 is one of the most physical leagues there is in the country,” Mayo said. “I’ve been paying attention. I watched a lot of March Madness. I’m just kind of watching how every team guards the ball, help-side stuff like that, guarding the pick and roll. When you have guys like KJ (Adams, forward) who can switch onto a guard it’s going to be very, very tough (at practice), especially for someone like me not as big, not as strong, not as fast. Hopefully that’ll develop in time with coach Ramsey (Nijem, strength coach). I understand it’s going to be a tough task. I’m a basketball player willing to work and get better at it.”

Mayo not only will have support from family members who live close to KU’s campus, but also lifelong buddies Devin Neal and Cole Mondi, fellow Lawrence High grads who play for the Jayhawk football team.

“Just having Devin and my other boy, Cole, on my (campus) visit was great. Understanding we grew up together ... to have this chance to come back to school, come back home to those guys and compete for Kansas is incredible,” Mayo said. “At the same time they both understood it was my decision ultimately. They were going to allow me to do my thing. They had to put a little bug in my ear. We grew up here all our lives. We dreamed of putting on these uniforms. To compete at the highest level … now that the opportunity has presented itself it felt right to take it. I’m really looking forward to it.”

KU coach Self is happy to bring Mayo aboard.

“Zeke has had a terrific career at SDSU and led them to the NCAA Tournament two of his three seasons there,” Self said of Mayo, who recorded 1,576 career points and 231 3s made in his three seasons at SDSU. “Most importantly, Zeke is a proven shooter. He made 92 3s last year and will be able to help us in that area. Being a local kid, it will mean so much to him and his family to put the Kansas jersey on and run out of the tunnel.”