This football star helped KU basketball land Zeke Mayo: Behind the scenes of his visit

Shortly after Zeke Mayo arrived in Brookings, South Dakota, in the summer of 2021, he and his former Lawrence High School classmates discussed their future dreams and ambitions.

Among that group was Kansas running back Devin Neal — a close friend of Mayo’s dating back to kindergarten.

Mayo, a 6-foot-4 guard from Lawrence, was South Dakota State basketball’s lone incoming freshman for the class of 2021. Neal was one of the 21 freshmen from that same class joining Kansas football.

Neal and his other friends had a message for Mayo before their college careers began.

“When I got to college, they were telling me ... ‘Go do your thing. And hopefully you end up back home,’” Mayo told The Star. “And I never thought I’d get the chance. But I mean, it presented itself to me, and I took that opportunity.”

Now, Mayo is KU basketball’s latest transfer portal commitment — a move Neal helped make happen.

Shortly after rumors started that Mayo would enter the transfer portal (he officially entered on March 26), Neal began his campaign to bring his childhood friend back to Lawrence.

Not only did he send a couple of text messages to Mayo, but he posted some tweets on X (formerly Twitter) lobbying Mayo to join the Jayhawks.

Neal’s message to Mayo? Neal said he would be by his side but understood it was Mayo’s decision. He also mentioned that if Mayo joined KU, it would be a childhood dream come true, as the pair grew up in Lawrence.

He also delivered a personal pitch on why Mayo should join Kansas.

“He said, ‘It’s exciting, and there’s a standard that’s set here,’” Mayo said, “’that’s to win national championships.’”

On Tuesday, Neal joined Mayo on his unofficial visit to Kansas.

Mayo sat down with an academic adviser, toured the facilities, had a photoshoot and met with coach Bill Self. Neal and fellow KU football player Cole Mondi — also from Lawrence High — joined Mayo for the photoshoot and facilities tour.

For Mayo, the meeting with Self was a dream come true.

“It was surreal,” Mayo said. “I was three feet away from him. I never thought in my career I’d be so close to coach Self. He was just telling me how much they want me (and) how much they need me to come in and play the role that he wants me to play.”

That role is to play his game but play within KU’s system. According to Mayo, Self wants him to be his own player, but also to create for others.

Ultimately, Mayo decided to commit to Kansas by the end of the visit. It wasn’t a decision he anticipated, but after the talk with Self, Mayo said he was all in.

Plus, Neal’s campaigning certainly helped.

“Once I actually committed, that’s when I did realize maybe (Neal) did play a part in it,” Mayo said. “As I was going through the process, I tried not to let much of it persuade, but I guess at the end of it was kind of a realization it would be a lot of fun to be home with him and a bunch of my friends from growing up.”

Ultimately, Mayo said becoming a Jayhawk is a realization of a childhood dream.

“It means the world,” Mayo said. “My family is right down the street. They live not even 10 minutes away from campus. I grew up watching and dreaming of putting on that uniform. Just seeing old pictures of me in the jerseys is so surreal. It just feels amazing to finally be able to play in front of family, friends and the other tens-of-thousands of people that attend games.”