Sekou Bangoura Jr., who turns 18 in four days, will end his ITF junior tennis career next month with appearances at the Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl. In January, he’ll begin a new phase in his tennis development, joining Andy Jackson’s Florida Gators.
A blue chip recruit from Bradenton, Fla. who graduated in May of this year, Bangoura has had excellent results this fall, winning the ITF Pan-American Closed last month, and three main draw Pro Circuit matches at Futures tournaments in Birmingham and Niceville during the past three weeks. I spoke with him today by phone from Niceville, Fla., where he is preparing for the doubles final on Sunday before heading to the Futures tournament at Amelia Island next week.
“I’ve been a Florida fan since I’m born and raised there, and this way I can stay close to home,” he said. “My parents will get to come see me play matches, stay in touch, and it just felt like the right choice.”
Bangoura took only one official visit, to Florida, where he attended the Florida - Tennessee football game, but according to his father and coach, Sekou Bangoura Sr., there were a host of unofficial visits as the pair travelled to tournaments around the country.
“Illinois, Florida State, Notre Dame, Florida, Miami, all of them were along the way, University of South Florida, which is very close to home,” said Sekou Sr. “Kentucky was another one, and Georgia. We visited, eight, ten, but then he had to pick one.”
Choosing from among that distinguished group wasn’t easy.
“It was a tough decision,” said Sekou Sr., ‘but it’s like you’re in a tiebreaker in the third set, match point, and you’ve got to make a decision, slice or topspin. You’ve got to make a decision, and he’s turning into an adult, so he’s got to start making some of those decisions.”
Bangoura, who also excels in golf, piano and chess, said he’s interested in sports management as a possible career path in Gainesville. In tennis, he’s eager to win championships and improve his own game, while retaining the skills that have kept him at the top of his age division throughout his junior career.
“I definitely can improve my serve, try to come to the net more, and I definitely think that Coach (Andy) Jackson and Coach (Jeremy) Bayon can help me with that,” he said. “My strength is playing from the baseline, my speed, able to retrieve a lot of balls, wait for my opportunities. I’m excited to go, and hopefully I’ll get a little bit bigger while in the fitness program there, so it should be good.”
Although he is looking forward to college, Bangoura also had a more immediate focus—his first Pro Circuit final on Sunday, when he and Denis Kudla play top seeds Tigran Martirosyan and Artem Sitak.
“I’m definitely more excited than nervous,” Bangoura said. “Denis and I have been playing pretty well together. We played together back in the 12s, and this is the first time since. We click well together, so it should be good tomorrow.”
Before closing the book on the college recruiting chapter, Sekou Sr. wanted to convey his gratitude to those involved in the process.
“I just wanted to thank all the coaches who showed interest in him. We deeply respect them and appreciate their interest and I wanted to make sure to extend that.”
Saturday, November 14, 2009