Thursday officially marked the start of Musa Jallow’s college career. But if not for Ohio State, some forward thinking and the wherewithal to pull it all together, he’d be preparing for his senior year at Bloomington North in Indiana instead.
Entering the summer, Jallow was a member of the class of 2018. By the time the Buckeyes reached out under newly hired coach Chris Holtmann and displayed their depth chart for the upcoming year, Jallow needed just one more course to become a full NCAA qualifier. He finished it, graduated from high school and was able to reclassify to the class of 2017.
It wasn’t a situation that was made attainable overnight.
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“He’s a really focused and driven kid,” said North athletic director Andy Hodson, Jallow’s coach for the last three years. “If something wasn’t really on his path to make him a better basketball player or to reach his goals of playing at the college level and beyond, then he would push it aside.”
Jallow was finishing his freshman season when college recruiters started telling him that they’d take him on their team immediately. That put a bug in his ear which, coupled with a strong academic work ethic, pushed Jallow to make sure he would have the option to play collegiately in 2017 should the right opportunity present itself.
That came in the form of Holtmann. It didn’t come from Indiana, which under new coach Archie Miller did not offer Jallow a scholarship.
“Most of the people that I know, the parents and friends and teachers, they’re all like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to be the only ones in IU gear rooting for you’ whenever we come play them,” Jallow said. “Then I’ll get a text from somebody, ‘Oh, my grandpa said that you’re a traitor.’ It (Indiana) wasn’t even an option.”
From Ohio State and the NCAA’s side, not much is different about Jallow’s academic situation than the thousands of others who will be first-year students this year. To be cleared to participate in athletics regardless of how many years were spent in high school, a student must have completed 16 core courses, have a grade-point average and test score that meet the NCAA sliding scale and to have graduated.
Shortly after Jallow committed to Ohio State, he finished his final online English class. It wasn’t a walk in the park, either. Jallow said the course required him to read five novels and complete two assignments for each, with each assignment requiring four essays. It was a relief to finish, he said, and an even bigger one to see his final grade — 92 percent.
“I remember one tournament we had in Indianapolis, in between games I was writing an essay,” he said. “I was sitting by myself by the court writing an essay.”
It helped solidify perhaps the most impressive academic achievement of them all: Jallow graduated from high school in three years with a grade-point average better than 4.0. Jallow said he would even spend lunch doing coursework in a teacher’s classroom.
Oh, and he won’t turn 18 until more than halfway through his first Big Ten season. In addition to his added coursework, Jallow said he has worked with the same personal trainer since fifth grade while paying close attention to his diet. He started a group called "The Breakfast Club" where, as Hodson put it, he frequently dragged teammates for predawn workouts while building a 6-5, 200-pound frame that has looked college-ready for more than a year.
Now he’s ready to start proving his worth at the next level.
“I’m (physically) ready,” he said. “Throw me on the court right now and we can go play UNC and we’ll have no problems. I’ve been working on being college-ready since (fifth grade), pretty much.”