Sekou Bangoura Jr., 19, from Bradenton, Fla., joined the University of Florida men's tennis team in January 2010 after an outstanding junior career, highlighted by reaching the singles final at the 2009 USTA Boys' 18s National Clay Court Championships and the doubles final at the 2009 USTA Boys’ 18s National Championships. During his freshman year, Bangoura went 24-4 overall and led the Gators in dual singles wins with a 21-3 record, including 9-1 in SEC play. He ended the season with nine consecutive singles wins, including victories in 17 of his final 18 decisions. Following his freshman campaign, Bangoura picked up many honors. In addition to being chosen ITA Southeast Region Rookie of the Year, he was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and the 2010 USTA Summer Collegiate Team, and he was chosen as one of six college players to represent the U.S. at the 2010 Master’U BNP Paribas, an international collegiate competition in France. Currently ranked 43rd in the ITA Division I Rankings, Bangoura recently answered questions for USTA.com about the challenges he faced entering college in the spring semester, his influences on the court and much more.
USTA.com: You were one of the top recruits in the class of 2010 and chose to enter college early, enrolling in the spring semester of 2010. Tell us a little about the recruiting process and why you chose Florida.
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: The recruiting process was very tough. I was recruited by some great schools, but I chose Florida because my family and I felt like it was the best decision. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and it also helped that I knew some of the guys on the team, as well as the fact that Bob (van Overbeek) was looking to enroll, as well. Coach Jackson and Coach Bayon recruited me very hard, and I clicked well with both of them, so I just want to say thank you to the both of them for everything.
USTA.com: What were the biggest challenges you faced entering school in the spring and joining the team at the beginning of the dual-match season?
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: The biggest challenge entering the school year for me was balancing school and tennis. I had taken the fall semester off to play some tournaments, so it was a challenge for me to get back into taking classes and doing homework. It was also tough because obviously it was a new setting. Coming into a big school like UF at what seemed to be the middle of the year was a little overwhelming at first. It was also tough but fun at the same time to jump into a team setting. Before I came, I was used to just playing for myself, and it was great and still is to have teammates to cheer you on and to cheer them on, as well.
USTA.com: How are things different now that you have your freshman year under your belt?
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: I was definitely nervous coming into school my freshman year. I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s a lot different now because I have been through a season of tennis and a year of school. Coming into this season, I felt a lot more comfortable with the tennis, academic and social part of being in college, so I feel like now I know how to manage my time better.
USTA.com: Over the summer, you had a pretty good run, winning the USTA Boys’ 18 National Doubles title in Kalamazoo, Mich., with Georgia recruit Nathan Pasha and earning a US Open doubles wild card. Talk a little about that experience.
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: It was an amazing experience. Nathan and I played very well at Kalamazoo, and it was my last year there, so it was special to win the doubles. Obviously, winning at Kalamazoo meant we got to play in the main draw of the US Open, which was a lot of fun. We played Jarkko Nieminen and Michael Kohlmann, and we lost pretty handily, but just being there – in the locker room, in the player’s lounge, around the top athletes in tennis, and being able to play and compete at one of the biggest stages in the sport of tennis – was incredible. Hopefully we will both be back.
USTA.com: You also were a member of the 2010 USTA Summer Collegiate Team and were invited to the Pro Tour Transition Camp over the summer. Can you talk about that experience and what it’s like to be training alongside some of your biggest "rivals" during the summer months?
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: Yes. The camp was also another great experience, and I would like to thank the USTA and all of the people and coaches who made that experience possible. It was a tough camp! All the members were working hard, and the training gave me a glimpse of the work ethic and discipline that is necessary to be a professional. It was great to train with the guys who were there. I knew almost all of them before heading down there, so we had some fun, and there were some times where we got competitive on the court, naturally. Overall, it was just a great experience and something I would definitely do again.
USTA.com: As a student-athlete, free time is tough to find. What do you like to do in your "spare" time?
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: Yes, it’s hard to find free time. In my "spare" time, I just like to relax. I’ll go hang with my teammates, or I’ll be eating and sleeping.
USTA.com: What’s the best thing about being a Florida Gator?
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: The best thing about being a Florida Gator is seeing The Gator Nation EVERYWHERE. I see other people on the street with Gator gear, or they say something like, "Go Gators," and follow it up with, "I went there back in the day," or, "My son/daughter is going there right now." It was especially cool to see that in Seattle because Gainesville and Seattle are on the complete opposite sides of the country.
USTA.com: You are definitely an exciting player to watch. Who have been your major influences on the court?
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: My dad has been a major influence on the court. He got me started in tennis and has been with me every step of the way supporting me. Arthur Ashe is definitely another major influence. If it wasn’t for him and his family, I would not be here today. As for people I enjoyed watching, I enjoyed watching Pete Sampras play because he always seemed to get the job done and because of his cool demeanor on the court.
USTA.com: What are your goals for yourself and for your team this season?
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: My goal for myself this season is to just keep improving. I have things I need to work on in my game, and I’m working on handling those things one at a time. As for the team, our goal is to continue to improve, as well. We have a great team, and we have had some great matches already early in the season so now are taking what we have learned and using it to better ourselves for the post-season coming up.
USTA.com: There are a lot of great rivalries in the SEC. Which SEC match do you most look forward to?
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: Definitely! I’m looking forward to all of them. I learned last year that every team in the SEC is tough. Tennessee and Georgia are definitely powerhouse teams this year, and we play them both in their territory, so that is going be fun.
USTA.com: What advice do you have for junior tennis players who want to play in college?
Sekou Bangoura Jr.: My advice would be to make sure you consider all your options, and no matter what school you’re interested in, go and see the campus. Just by going to see the campus you can narrow down your list of schools. I think, most importantly, you should make contact with the coach. Coaches cannot make contact with you during your recruiting process, but you can make contact with them, so don’t hesitate to do so.