Balogun’s 4,000 mile adventure to EKU basketball

Tariq Balogun shoots over the Berea College defender during EKU’s exhibition game on Oct. 31 at Alumni Coliseum.

Tariq Balogun grew up with a dream of hitting the pitch with his favorite soccer club, Chelsea Football Club, and chasing down a Premier League championship.

Many years and 4,000 miles later, a new dream of playing professional basketball has taken him from his home in London, England to Richmond, Kentucky.

Balogun was awarded a scholarship to play Division-I basketball at Eastern Kentucky University in June after playing high school basketball in Virginia. Jumping across the pond to advance his future was never an accident – it was just another chapter in his life.

“My goal was [to play] basketball, so I was going to do whatever it took to succeed,” Balogun said.

His parents were born in Nigeria and moved to Italy, where his dad attended school. Soon after Balogun was born, his parents relocated to London.

Growing up, Balogun played soccer and set his sights on playing professionally. As he got into his teenage years, he saw kids around him starting to separate themselves from the pack and taking the next step in their careers. Balogun was not getting to that level and knew his pro dream might be over.

Continuing to run track and field was not going to be a viable option for a professional career either. However, standing at a staggering 6 foot 10 inches with a 33-inch vertical jump made him a perfect candidate to take his athletic abilities to the hardwood.

While he had never played much basketball as a child, he quickly realized his ceiling for potential was much higher if he put in the work. Soccer and track quickly fell to the side, and he set his sights on becoming the best basketball player he could.

Balogun knew it would take an inordinate amount of work to make it to the next level. It meant many early mornings and long days in the gym.

“Everyone was still asleep and I was waking up at six in the morning, taking a bus to my practice nearly an hour away and taking a bus back,” he said.

When issues with getting time in a gym arose, he would have to take a bus to another gym just to be able to practice for another hour. The commitment would not be for nothing.

Balogun quickly started to rise through the ranks, going from his county team all the way to the national team.

His high school coaches knew if he want- ed a real chance at making it professionally, he would have to jump the pond over to the United States. They quickly got him in con- tact with Danny Manuel, then-head coach of Miller School of Albemarle in Charlottesville, Virginia, to take the next step.

After finding him a host family and get- ting him enrolled in the school, the next chapter of his life was ready to begin.

After helping lead the team to a Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division-II state title with second team all-conference honors in 2017-18, he took his talent to another level the following year to earn first team all-state and all-conference honors. He averaged 14-points and seven rebounds-per-game in his career, while obtaining 61 percent shooting from the field.

His stats spoke for themselves and college teams started making their pitch to get Balogun on their roster. EKU men’s basketball assistant coach Mike Allen was amongst those who began to recruit him.

Blown away by his size and ability to box out, Allen was also struck by his mobility- which he says was much better than a lot of athletes his size. With EKU head coach A.W. Hamilton pushing to get more size on the team following the graduation of 6 foot 9 inch star Nick Mayo, Allen knew he wanted to get Balogun to Richmond.

“Anytime you can get a 6 foot 10 inch kid in the OVC that doesn’t move stiffly, they’re worth going after,” Allen said.

Hamilton tried not to get his hopes up when the recruiting process began. While the program coveted his size and wanted to bring him in, he knew bigger kids like that tend to end up at “Power Five” conference schools.

“When we first started recruiting Tariq, we didn’t think we were going to get him,” Hamilton admitted.

Nevertheless, he got him to visit the cam- pus in May. Balogun took note of EKU’s size and the general friendliness of the staff upon his arrival. When it came time to make his decision, it was ultimately Ham- ilton’s personality and drive that convinced the UK native to commit to a school in Richmond.

“Anytime you can get a 6 foot-10 inch kid in the OVC that doesn’t move stiffly, they’re worth going after,” Allen said.

Hamilton tried not to get his hopes up when the recruiting process began. While the program coveted his size and wanted to bring him in, he knew bigger kids like that tend to end up at “Power Five” conference schools.

“When we first started recruiting Tariq, we didn’t think we were going to get him,” Hamilton admitted.

Nevertheless, he got him to visit the campus in May. Balogun took note of EKU’s size and the general friendliness of the staff upon his arrival. When it came time to make his decision, it was ultimately Hamilton’s personality and drive that convinced the UK native to commit to a school in Richmond.

“He’s still on a mission the same way I’m on a mission,” Balogun said. “I can help him and he can help me. We can both help EKU come up.”

Now the real work begins for Balogun. Adapting to the pace of the game at the college level is no easy task for any athlete, but he has already started to put in the work.

Hamilton notes Balogun took 12 hours of courses while balancing training and practices over the summer. He was impressed with how he handled the workload while bettering himself and his teammates with the season nearing.

“The way he managed that and how competitive he stayed; he stayed the course the whole summer,” Hamilton said. “He made some huge jumps this summer and I was really proud of him.”

It is another new beginning for Balogun at EKU. The next four years will determine where a journey that’s taken him from England to Kentucky lands him next. There is no need for him to look too far ahead, however.

His current focus is simply writing the newest chapter of his journey.

“It’s a new chapter in my life,” he said. “I’m just ready to ball out.”

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Irsalinaisa

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