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Iowa Hawkeyes crush London to begin European visit
The London Lions moved into their new home at the Copper Box just in time for the Iowa Hawkeyes – and London-born Gabriel Olaseni – to come visiting. Natimi Black-Heaven witnessed the occasion.
This past Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, BBL powerhouse the London Lions made their highly anticipated move to East London's ex-Olympic venue, the Copper Box. The former Milton Keynes based club had a difficult time in their Tuesday warm-up against the NCAA division 1 Iowa Hawkeyes, getting beat up 102-58; Wednesday's game in front of a sold out 7,500 capacity stadium proved to be a lot more on the competitive side as the Lions aimed to put on a stellar performance for home fans.
Over the past couple of years, British fans have become accustomed to world class international basketball events like NBA regular season games, Euroleague Final Four and even the 2012 London Olympic Games, so it's only right to think that crowds will flock to live basketball at every opportunity, right? Well, that's no given when it comes to overseas university teams. College basketball may be a big deal in the States but across the Atlantic the NCAA is rarely followed, except by die-hard (and usually expat) basketball fans, so having a sold out event featuring an unranked D1 college team is something to get excited about.
It's clear that the unprecedented home support that London had from last year's Olympic Games is still very much lingering. London is now definitely on the map as one of the world's top basketball hotspots for hosting competitions. When US collegiate teams start playing pre-season games in London – and sell out – US basketball is no doubt increasing in popularity. With respect to Wednesday's game, there was another reason why the Lions witnessed such an outpouring of home town support. Hawkeyes' junior center Gabriel Olaseni is a London native and was very much recognised for his achievements by the crowd, who gave him a standing ovation during the player introductions. Olaseni was named the Hawkeyes' most improved player for his performance last season; he also put up career averages across rebounds, blocks and points which have led him to earn a starting job as Iowa's first choice centre.
Catching up with Olaseni after the game, he said that coming back home to London is "always good and inspiring young people to play basketball is worth it." Well, he was certainly inspiring in this contest with a 14 point performance that included many thunderous dunks.
The Hawkeyes finish their European tour in Paris with a couple of games against top professional teams but after that, Olaseni and Iowa head back to start training camp with the overall aim of making an appearance in the NCAA tournament. Olaseni does not yet have plans to represent Great Britain in international competition as his work schedule limits his free time to just 2 weeks a year which, he explains, is reserved "strictly family." So, although he may not get to see Olaseni on home soil representing GB, be sure to watch out for the Brit and the Iowa Hawkeyes as they make a run at NCAA glory.
After the 1st quarter the game had already swung in favour of Iowa. For every run the Lions pulled off, it seemed as though Iowa had the perfect recipe for a cool, calm and calculated comeback, with offense primarily run through the 6'10 big man Olaseni, who was patrolling the paint throughout his time on the court. That being said, a great block by center Matthew Bryan-Amaning (guesting for the Lions prior to a move to South Korea's Anyang KGC) followed by a fast break dunk by Joe Ikhinmwin gave the Lions momentum leading into the 2nd quarter. Amaning kept up the great work; continuing to work his authority while in the game, but the offensive rebounding and relentless offensive pressure by Iowa kept London's hard work to a modest level. That was until Lions guard Rod Brown decided that he would up the ante with a single-handed effort to bring his team back into the game. It may not show up on the score sheet, but he constantly had the defence on their heels, and provided on point passing and opportunities that gave the Lions many scoring chances. Going into the half, it was still the Iowa Hawkeyes that led the contest 49-37.
Going into the 2nd half, the Americans started the way they began the game, with an onslaught of ruthless aggression going to the rim. Iowa quickly expanded on their lead as London was finding it difficult to even get off a decent shot at the rim. But with an explosion of energy, the Lions were able to make a few crowd pleasing plays as London continued to block shots, steal the ball and throw it down with extreme power. The freakishly athletic skills of the Lions were certainly on show, putting on a performance for the excited kids in the audience.
Nonetheless, when it came down to the wire, the Lions' fuel tank ran out and Iowa saw themselves going into the final period donning a 20+ point lead. The 4th quarter saw Iowa prove just why they are a D1 calibre basketball team as the Lions were picked apart bit by bit. But with true lion heart the London boys stayed strong all the way to the finish, played hard right until the final buzzer. The game ended 107-72 in favour of the Hawkeyes but we'll certainly look forward to seeing a lot more of the London Lions as they begin a new era at their new home in the Copper Box!
The season begins at home on the 27th September as they go up against the Manchester Giants.