Alexandria native Justin Balcome has found a new home to play college basketball at.
Balcome signed with Northern State University in South Dakota out of high school to play in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference at the Division II level. After a redshirt freshman season, the 6-foot, 10-inch center announced his intentions to transfer early this spring.
"At the end of the day, it just wasn't the right fit for me," Blacome said. "I kind of met with the coaches after the season was over, and he could see my unhappiness in the way I was playing on the floor. We just kind of decided mutually that transferring would be the best decision for my career while I still had all four years of eligibility left."
Balcome moved quickly to find a new school. He visited a handful of programs across the country, but settled on Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan. He signed his letter of intent with the Hornets on May 21.
"I was really looking for a place that made me feel like home," Balcome said. "A place that had a young, energetic coaching staff, one that I'd be excited to play for every day and a great community surrounding it."
Balcome had heard a little bit about Emporia State head coach Craig Doty during his time at Northern State through Wolves assistant coach Jamie Stevens, who had hired Doty as an assistant when he was head coach at Central Wyoming College.
Balcome knew nothing about Emporia State as a program, though, until they reached out to him almost immediately after he put his name into the transfer portal. He had a good visit to the school, but did not commit on the spot.
"We headed east for the rest of our visits," Balcome said. "I could compare everything to Emporia, and Emporia just stood out to me in terms of the coaching staff and the program."
Balcome will major in elementary education and has four years of athletic eligibility left. He can play immediately starting in the fall and does not have to sit out due to any NCAA transfer rules.
"Justin is a outside/inside big who has range to 26 feet," Doty said in a release announcing Balcome's signing. "He can finish over both shoulders and will be very difficult to defend in pick and pop situations. He redshirted in a national-level program at Northern State where he was able to add weight and strength. We are thrilled he is joining our program."
Balcome joins a Hornets team that went 14-16 overall last year. They finished 8-11 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, good for eighth place in the Division II conference.
Balcome said he learned a lot about what it takes to be successful in a winning program in his one year at Northern State. The Wolves won the NSIC each of the last two seasons and finished as the Division II runner-up in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Balcome hopes to take some of the lessons he learned during his first year in college and apply them immediately at Emporia State.
"I think coach Doty and I would both say we have super high expectations for myself going into the season," he said. "I think for the program to be successful, they're going to need me to at least have some contribution on the floor. At the end of the day, it's going to be up to me to figure out how much contribution I'm able to give. He's a great coach. He doesn't promise anything, but as long as I go and work each day, I'm sure I can contribute in a positive way."
Balcome averaged 17 points and 8.9 rebounds per game his senior season in Alexandria. He showed off an ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter during his time with the Cardinals, but he said he was playing the more traditional center role during his year at Northern State. He put on about 20 pounds in the weight room, and is now up to about 230.
"I've gotten a whole lot more crafty on the inside and can kind of play some more bully ball," Balcome said. "That's something I was kind of missing out on in high school only weighing around 205-210."
Balcome expects to use his size and shooting ability to make an impact both in the paint and on the perimeter with his move to Emporia State. After a few weeks of his future being unclear, he's excited to get going with this new chapter in his athletic and academic life.
"It's a huge weight off my shoulder to have that figured out," Balcome said. "As a transfer, you don't have the luxury of a high schooler and taking your time to figure out what is the best fit for you. Your options are kind of handed to you, and you have until typically around June to decide. It's a huge weight off my shoulders, and I'm very glad I found such a great program."