Mohamed Sanogo said it’s a relief to have decided where he’ll play college basketball.
“It feels great. I really feel relieved,” Sanogo said, after announcing on Twitter Tuesday that he made a verbal commitment to play Division I basketball at Florida International University.
“Throughout the process, there was a lot of pressure going on,” he said in a Tuesday night interview with The Eagle. “The recruiting process wasn’t the same because of the [COVID-19 pandemic] going on. The recruitment was really different.
“I think I made a great decision.”
Sanogo, a 6-foot-9 center, who graduated from Taconic in June and is currently playing a post-graduate year at Putnam Science Academy in Putnam, Conn. According to the website Verbalcommits.com, Sanogo chose FIU from a list of six Division I teams.
He said it came down to FIU, Boston University and Holy Cross. BU had been the first school to offer Sanogo a scholarship.
The NCAA’s Division I early signing period opens Wednesday and runs until Nov. 18.
FIU is a member of Conference USA. Sanogo will play for Jeremy Ballard, who will be heading into his third year at the South Florida school this winter.
“I really like what they did for their center last year. He led the nation in blocked shots, which is what I’m really good at. He started off as a walk-on, and he ended up leading the nation in blocks,” Sanogo said. “That really motivated me. I feel like I really fit in with the program.”
Sanogo is referring to FIU’s Osasumwen Osaghae, who graduated in June. The 6-foot-9 center had 122 blocks at FIU in 33 games.
Bill Heaphy, who coached Sanogo for three years at Taconic, called the decision exciting news.
“I’m really, really happy for him,” Heaphy said. “Super, super kid. I always felt as he developed through our program that you could see the potential he had. Obviously, the scouts — the college coaches, the prep schools — they all saw it. The more exposure he got and the more he played, even outside the county and got a chance to show what he could do, boy, any coach that could get him would be thrilled.”
Sanogo was a key factor in Taconic winning its third consecutive Western Massachusetts Division II championship. The Taconic center had 18 points and 16 rebounds when third-seeded Taconic beat No. 1 Chicopee 63-52, in a rematch of the 2019 championship game, also won by Taconic.
In each of the last three years, Taconic advanced to the state championship game. There was no game actually played in 2020, so Taconic was named co-champion by the MIAA. Sanogo was on all three of those state finalist teams.
“He came to us in his sophomore year, so we only had three years with him,” Heaphy said. “I heard of him the year prior because he played in the CYC in the older kids league when he was up at BART [Berkshire Arts and Technology charter school]. It’s amazing to me just the rapid improvement he showed. It’s his willingness to put the work in. You saw the athleticism and we always said geez, if he can put all this stuff together. You knew he was smart. He listened. But you never know if a kid is going to put those hours in outside the season.”
Sanogo’s dream has been to play Division I basketball, and that’s why he went to Putnam Science Academy, where he plays for Tom Espinosa.
He is one of five Putnam players to have made verbal commitments to Division I schools. Bensley Joseph is going to Miami (Fla.), Elijah Hutchins will be attending Penn State, while Alexis Reyes is bound for East Carolina and Sean Durgordon will attend Missouri. The four of them and Sanogo are listed by newenglandrecruitingreport.com as top prospects in Connecticut and in New England in the class of 2021. Joseph is the No. 1 player out of Connecticut, while Hutchins is third, Reyes is fourth, Durgordon is fifth and Sanogo is eighth.
In New England, Joseph is the No. 2 prospect, while Hutchins is eighth, Reyes ninth, Durogordon 10th and Sanogo is 25th.
Sanogo, who also had offers from St. Bonaventure and Gardner-Webb, said that the FIU Panthers were one of the last teams to contact him, and it all came to pass within the last month to six weeks.
“Jesse Bopp, who’s one of the assistants [at FIU] is a New England guy. He coached at Vermont Academy and he’s really connected in New England,” Espinosa said in an interview with The Eagle. “That’s his connection with Team New England and with Mo. And that’s kind of how it all got started. Coach Bopp built a great relationship with Mo, and Mo felt like this was the right move for him at the right time.”
FIU is coming off a 19-13 regular season in 2019-20, and the Panthers were 9-9 in Conference USA. They finished fifth in the regular season after being the preseason No. 10 team in the 14-team conference. Hit by some graduation losses, Ballard and the Panthers are the preseason No. 11 team in C-USA.
“I feel like it’s a good league. It’s a mid-major school in a really good league with good academics,” Sanogo said. “The coaches really recruited me hard. They showed me they wanted me and would use me, and I would fit in pretty well.”