Joe ‘I Came To Win’ Ikhinmwin has quickly established himself as one of the leading faces of London basketball in just his first season for the capital’s premier hoops squad, the London Lions. Ikhinmwin’s athletic, hungry and hard-working approach to the game has become the recognisable identity for the Lions as they rise up the ranks of the BBL in London’s first legitimate shot at bringing a long-awaited championship back to the capital since the days of the London Towers.
A firm fan favourite, born and raised in East London, we caught up with Joe to learn a little more about the man behind the jersey…
Q: Do you remember the first time you played basketball?
The first time I played, I was 14 years-old and it was because my PE teacher at the time forced me to, due to being the tallest child in the class. I should probably go and thank him at some point.
Q: How did things develop for you from there?
As soon as I started playing basketball, I knew I wanted to do it as long as I could. From 14 through to 18, I played for the East London Royals, under Mr Humphrey Long and the late Chris Morgan. They helped me really understand about being a good teammate, winning and having fun while competing. Playing for them put me in the position to make multiple England team appearances and represent my country on the biggest (international) stage for my age group.
Q: After your successful under 18 career at East London came to an end, what happened next for you?
Well, playing for England led me to being introduced to Mark Clark, who presented me with an opportunity that I could not turn down, which was to be a part of the first class of students in the Barking Abbey Basketball Academy. Barking Abbey was the best thing that could have happened to me as a young basketball player and a student. Barking Abbey is as close to an American High School or Prep School as you can get without leaving the UK.
Q: How do you mean?
Mr Clark and coach Lloyd Gardner run the program and provided the right mixture of basketball fundamentals, individual workouts, shooting practise, playing games, watching game film and guidance that I feel a lot of young athletes are not currently getting in the UK. Barking Abbey were also supportive of me playing and training with the Essex Leopards mens team in the National League, with my aspirations of going to university in America, I knew playing against better, bigger and stronger competition was vital. For me, it was the perfect situation.
Q: What was it like playing National League Mens Division 1 with the Leopards as a teenager?
It was a great experience and I got to play with pro players and older English veterans like Duncan Ogilvie, who had already taken the path I was trying to go down. The whole experience was great and really helped prepare me for college basketball in America.
Q: Where did you play college ball in the states and what was that like?
College in America was an amazing experience for me, it was 100 percent the hardest part of my basketball life mentally and physically that I had ever been through. I spent two years in Oklahoma at Seminole State Junior College and two years at South Carolina State University (NCAA1).
Q: What made college so tough for you?
The hardest part of college to me was the timetable! Waking up at 5am for weights and breakfast, I then had to be in class for 8am through to 12 noon and then go to individual workouts from 1pm to 2:30pm and then team practise from 4pm to 7pm. Then you’ve got to fit in dinner, homework, maybe a little TV and sleep then be up again at 5am to do it all again the next day!
Q: So how did you handle the adjustment?
You eventually get into a routine. Then on the flip side, college basketball is also a lot of fun too. The best part was the road trips, flying all over the country to places like Hawaii, Las Vegas and more, whilst getting to compete against the best players in the country in front of thousands of fans in the stands, or at home watching on national television.
Q: Last season you came into the BBL as a rookie up in Newcastle for the Eagles, what did you learn in your first year as a pro?
I think I learned a lot of things from last season but I’ll pick two things that standout. Number one, never stop working hard no matter the situation and two, you cannot win if you do not trust and believe in your team, players and coaches.
Q: How do you get on with your coaches this season with the Lions?
The coaching staff are great and set a good mood and aura in practise and workouts which carry over to the games. It’s a great pleasure to be working with people who really want to help me develop as a player and as a member of the team.
Q: What is it like playing at the Copper Box Arena?
It’s exciting playing at the Copper Box. It’s in the heart of London and is a high level facility, the best in the BBL. It makes a huge difference for our team, training and practise through to the game night atmosphere – it’s unlike anywhere else in the country. It all helps to the success of the team.
Q: If someone comes to watch the Lions play for the first time this season, what style of play can they expect to see?
An aggressive defensive team that executes on the fast break and in the half-court. We aim to represent the character and toughness of Londoners and carry on that winning London legacy from the 2012 Olympic games.
Q: What are your thoughts on the season so far?
We’ve has a decent start to the season (Ed: at time of writing, the Lions are joint 3rd place in the league at 8-3), but we can still get so much better. Defensively we have so many areas we can improve upon, but that just takes time and everyone buying in to the fact that it’s defense that wins championships.
Q: How has it been, playing back in your hometown?
Getting the opportunity to come back to London, the place where I was born and raised and first met the game of basketball is just the best feeling and I know we are going to have a great season moving forward. We have the best collection of British players in the league, some really talented American players, a great coaching staff along with amazing fans and a great new home at the Copper Box Arena. I’m blessed right now.
Get your tickets to see Joe and the rest of the Lions in action at the next London Lions game at the Copper Box Arena right here: Lions Fixtures & Ticketing