11 January 2008

NIGERIA : I've Trained Over 200 Kids - Mark Balogun, Rookies' Coach

Coach of Rookies Basketball Academy, Mark Balogun, may not be a name that rings a bell to followers of the slam and dunk game in Nigeria, but among some of the country's top players based in the country and abroad, he is a household name. Some of the players are Churchill Odia, Akin Akintunde, Malik Tella, Daniel Daudu, Segun Daudu, Mike ‘Ori' Ohiero, Nkoyo George and Juliet Obi.

Before he became a basketball player he was a teacher at some point in his life leading up to his bagging a Physical and Health Education (PHE) degree, as well as a coaching certificate from the National Institute for Sports (NIS).

He told GEORGE AKPAYEN his reasons behind his basketball programme at the basketball court of the Police College in Ikeja, Lagos. Excerpts:

A few people know that you have been one of those at the forefront of hunting and grooming talents in the game of basketball. For how long have you been doing this and why?
I have been organizing and sponsoring this programme since 1992 because of the conviction that I have that I can contribute positively to humanity in order to help youths grow in the game and as responsible people in the society. I thank God that up till this moment the programme is ongoing. I am happy that my programme has been able to get some of our youths off the streets and crime.
I believe that this programme will empower our youths.

Before you became a coach, at what level did you play basketball?
I started playing basketball from the Under-12 level under one American coach, Don Burrell. I also played in the Secondary School category for Fatima College, Ikire in the first edition of the National Schools Sports Meet that was held in Lagos in 1977. After that I also played in the junior national team alongside the likes of Gboyega ‘Tilo' Vidal and Deji Jaiyeola among others. But then my priority was to go to school while some of my friends then decided to go ahead and play basketball. At the school level, I played in the NICEGA Games for College of Education, Ilesa, and we won the competition in Ijanikin (Lagos), and I was the captain of the team and I got a sports award. Later, I went to the University of Benin (UNIBEN) and I represented UNIBEN at the Nigeria University Games Association, NUGA Games and we won the basketball event in Calabar. After that I represented Nigeria at the World University Games and I came back to play in several matches in the Division-1 league then for Golden Stars of Oyo State and when I joined the Police Force I started playing for the Police Basketball Team, which was later changed to Police Bombers basketball Club. We changed it to Police Bombers and since then the Police Bombers have been in the Premier League up till 2003 when the general elections held leading to the withdrawal of all policemen. Since then we have ceased playing in the Premier League.

You have been running this programme for more than one decade. How have you been generating funds to finance the Under-18 and Under-16 boys and girl's competition?
I must give God the glory because it is not easy. A lot of people think I am a mad man when they see me in the sun coaching young players, but I have a vision and I know where I am going to. Obviously, God has been in support and at a time, friends who are basketball players started supporting, and I really appreciate their support. People like the Dolphins Basketball Club chairman, Wale Aboderin, Dr. Phil Osagie and even Babs Ogunade, the chairman of Lagos State Basketball Association, who supported us two years ago and a lot of other friends as well. I have been struggling to get sponsorship from corporate bodies, but it has not been fruitful and I hope this year will be different. Two years ago, Indomie supported us with their products and they did the same last year though it was on a smaller scale compared to two years ago. Also, a new body that just sprang up - Friends of Basketball Africa Foundation - has been very supportive.

You handle mostly teenagers, how do you ensure that they combine the game with their education?
I am a father and husband, and I know the importance of education in the life of anybody. I have three children and I am proud of them because my first and second child are passionate about basketball than I am so happy about this development. So, I always encourage them and at the same time I make sure that they do not lose focus in their academic pursuit. My philosophy as a coach is that my players combine basketball and education together. I always ensure that my players are always in school because at the end of the day, not all of them would end up playing basketball. Many of my players who have left this court (Police College, Lagos) are professionals in different fields. We have those who have gone on to become doctors and engineers who are in the United States. I think the most important thing is to develop that talent because basketball can take you anywhere in the world.
Since I started this programme, I have trained more than 200 kids and more than 50 of them are doing well. So, a lot of clubs have come here (Police College basketball court) to pick players.

Daily Independent

happy to read these few lines that remind me of my days in fatima college after a long time away from nigeria due to the fact that my family and i were all living in italy. as a mattere of fact i was one of the students that built the basetball court in fatima college ikire. dr felix imevbore. milan- italy.

Very interesting article. I would love you to get in touch with me as I have something that will be of great interest to you to raise your profile and what you do for these kids in Basket ball.

Wow, so nice to hear that you're a great Fatimarian
i am so happy to read that mark balogun ended up to be a coach, you have always been inclined to sport. i remember when i was in fatima college and mark was one of our very important player then, he would be out all alone training in the sun.
Who gives a fuck if you've trained 200 kids or 5millions kids nobody ask u that and why are u advertising churchill,daudu they've forgotten that you've ever existed......they're in america enjoying their life so keep pushing mark
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