The following article first appeared in issue No. 2 of the Flames Illustrated game program for the 2011-12 basketball season, which was available at the Vines Center between Dec. 1-20. Tolu Omotola and the Liberty women's basketball team finished the non-conference portion of the schedule with a 5-6 record and will open Big South Conference play Dec. 31 at Radford at 4:30 p.m.
Growing up in the Houston area, Tolu Omotola enjoyed being close to her family. Like many who are figuring out where to attend college, she favored the geographical aspects of TCU, knowing that being in Fort Worth her family would be able to see her on the weekends.
Omotola played in 20 contests for the Horned Frogs during the 2008-09 season, averaging 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds per game as a freshman. TCU made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament that year with a 20-11 record, but Omotola knew TCU was not where she needed to be.
The Lady Flames media guide states that Omotola admits to being directionally challenged. The publication features in her profile a "Tolu Uncovered" section that says, "It would be a rough ride to the moon if Tolu was a space pilot. With her terrible sense of direction she would probably end up driving her passengers to the sun and frying them!"
The section also says, "Tolu accepts her bad directional sense as part of what makes her herself and if she came with an instruction manual, the first chapter would be titled ‘How To Be Yourself.'"
After a year at TCU, Omotola realized she was not going in the direction she should be. She knew she was supposed to be somewhere else.
During her recruiting process out of high school, she remembered visiting with Liberty head coach Carey Green. A highly-recruited player, Omotola received offers from many schools with highly acclaimed women's basketball programs.
Green met with her and her family multiple times, but there was something that stood out in that last meeting Omotola had with him. With her father present, she heard Green say a rather cute remark, but his statement made a lasting impression.
Green said to her, "You know we want you to come here for all the obvious reasons, but your name is ‘Tolu – To LU.' I don't think that's a coincidence."
The comment became prophetic. Though Omotola may have difficulty knowing where to go sometimes, she eventually knew she needed to be going TO LU.
"The biggest reason is I knew I needed to grow up and step out of the boundaries. I needed to just trust in God and not be so homesick," she said about why she came to Liberty.
After completing a year in residency after transferring, Omotola started in 32 games for Liberty at power forward during the 2010-11 season. She ranked second on the team in blocked shots (27) and total rebounds (196) and third in steals (36).
Omotola also made an impact offensively with an 8.5 points per game average. Liberty went 12-2 when she scored in double figures.
One of her memorable performances early in the season came against eventual national champion Texas A&M, as she contributed 13 points and seven rebounds against the Lady Aggies. She also grabbed a career-high 12 rebounds in each of Liberty's regular-season meetings with High Point, and just missed her first career double-double in a home win over Gardner-Webb, recording 17 points and nine boards.
Though she performed well and made an impact during her first year playing with the Lady Flames, Omotola knows she can improve.
"Honestly, I didn't play up to my potential," she said about playing last season. "I know I have a lot of work to do. It has been a huge learning process for me. Sitting out a year was difficult, and the transition took me the whole year to get back to playing regularly. I think I am giving more of an effort, but I don't think I have reached the potential of what I can do here."
Green also has high hopes for her and sees Omotola continuing to improve and make an even greater impact.
"Tolu brings a nice amount of experience at the power forward position," he said. "She worked extremely hard this summer, including training with the Nigerian national team, and has displayed a great deal of improvement in her game. Tolu has an exceptional scoring touch for a post player and shooting range that extends to the three-point line."
Omotola was born in London, England, but her parents are natives of Nigeria and moved to Houston when she was seven. She has much experience playing in Nigeria, as she also was named to the Nigerian Under-19 National team in 2007 and won a bronze medal while competing in the African Games.
Nigeria is a place of passion for Omotola. She plans to continue her connections with the national team and she has also developed many friendships in Nigeria.
"We have a huge church there that my family visits often. My father is there now, actually," she said. "There are a lot of opportunities opening for sports ministries for girls. I would definitely be interested in working with that, showing little girls that want to play basketball the potential and having fun with them."
Green has a high regard for his wayfaring post player. Traveling internationally, as well as changing routes from TCU to Liberty, Omotola is learning and growing through all of her journeys.
"I'm not sure she's a born leader, but she's learning to be a leader," Green said. "She definitely is a leader as a person. She's an outstanding person."
For now, Omotola is committed to playing this season and helping the Lady Flames get back on track to winning the Big South Conference title and making another appearance in the NCAA Tournament. With her natural abilities, her international experience and her recent improvements in the offseason, Omotola definitely is in position to help steer the squad on the familiar path that has led to 13 league championships in the last 15 seasons.
Just make sure she always has a map. ------ Chris Doyle is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics
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