Mercer Guard Ike Nwamu Looks to Explode onto the Scene in 2014-2015
“I would say my game and myself as a basketball player is a bigger version of Damian Lillard. ” – Ike Nwamu, Mercer Basketball
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With 7.3 seconds remaining in the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan dribbles to the top of the free-throw line trailing 86-85. He pushes off a Utah defender. Jordan rises for his iconic jump-shot, as he has done countless times in this very kind of moment, and makes the game-winning shot securing his sixth NBA Title.
In Los Angeles, five-year old Ike Nwamu sat in awe of Jordan. Like most kids of this era, Nwamu just wanted “to be like Mike.” 16 years later, Nwamu is still chasing his Jordan dream, but he’s gotten a lot closer than a lot of the kids of that era ever will.
Now 21 years old, Nwamu is a junior guard for Mercer University. Last season, Nwamu averaged 8.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game coming off the bench as a sixth man for the Bears. He sat out the previous season due to NCAA regulations because he transferred from Cleveland State University in 2012.
“My experience at Cleveland State was a great one,” said Nwamu. “I enjoyed my coaches, and my teammates, and the city of Cleveland as well. It was a great learning experience for me. I learned what it took to play college basketball at a high level.”
Ironically, Mercer and Cleveland State both recruited Nwamu coming out of Westchester Country Day High School in High Point, North Carolina. He led his team to a top-30 ranking in the nation earning him the 2A State Player of the Year.
Nwamu and his family decided it was in his best interest to play school somewhere close to home. Mercer is only three hours away from his parents in North Carolina. Now, Nwamu is comfortable playing close to home and his game has matched that.
“The coaching staff here teaches us the ins-and-outs of the game of basketball,” said Nwamu. “I feel like my basketball IQ has skyrocketed. Then, the way that we play and our comradery gives us a family-like atmosphere on this team. It’s been really special being a part of that.”
A major step in his development as a versatile guard was sitting out one year. Nwamu saw the game of basketball from a different perspective. He watched film, and he envisioned the spots on the floor in which he could help his team.
These are the same spots where Nwamu is excelling for the Bears. In an interview last year with 13WMAZ in Macon, Ga., head coach Bob Hoffman notes how Nwamu filled his role.
“It’s just trying to get understanding of when to go on the bounce, when to move the ball, when to include his teammates, and when he needs to finish,” said Hoffman. “He’s not everywhere he needs to be yet, but he’s definitely come a long way.”
Without hesitation, the Mercer coaching staff, team, and even Nwamu himself will acknowledge the best part of his game is his unmatched athleticism. Each night, when Nwamu subs in at the scorer’s table, he arguably becomes the purest athlete on the court.
Nwamu, a former high school dunk champion, emerged on the scene in college basketball after a two-handed windmill dunk against Kennesaw State which earned him a place on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.
“I’ve been blessed with a lot of athletic ability,” said Nwamu. “I have good size, good length, with an NBA ready body. Even with all that, I’m a really skilled player as well and a good shooter.”
Nwamu is far from just an athletic force on the court. He shot 48.5% from the field and 43.5% from three-point range as well. When asked to compare his game to a present day NBA player, he had a rising star in mind.
“I would say my game and myself as a basketball player is a bigger version of Damian Lillard,” he said.
Life has a way of coming full circle. Nwamu sat on his couch in his living room and watched with sheer emotion during Jordan’s run. Now, people look up to him in a similar fashion. The prime example is Josh Level.
Level attended Nwamu’s former high school in North Carolina. Through a few coaches and a shared trainer, Level met Nwamu. The two would train and practice when he would come back home. It wouldn’t take long until Nwamu saw how amazing of a player, and most importantly a person, Level was.
“I really felt like he was really my little brother,” said Nwamu. “I was always on him about training and working out because I saw that he had the makings of a great player one day.”
Unfortunately, in February 2013 during his basketball game, Level collapsed on the sideline during a timeout. He would be rushed to hospital, but he passed away. Level had a viral infection called myocarditis that attacked his heart.
In March 2014, Level’s friend, Kanayo Obi-Rapu, held the 1st annual Josh Level Classic to honor his late friend. The event was well attended by everyone in the Greensboro community including Nwamu. All the proceeds went towards the Josh Level Foundation with the goals of ending bullying and helping students with special needs.
Nwamu has not forgotten his friend. Before every game, viewers in the arena and at home can see Level’s number on his shoes as he takes the court. In Nwamu’s Twitter bio, it reads:
Last season the Mercer Bears (27-9, 14-4) busted brackets everywhere defeating the Duke Blue Devils in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament. Their victory became the “Nae Nae” heard around the world. This season, Mercer hopes to go dancing once again.
The Bears split the regular season Atlantic Sun Conference title with Florida Gulf Coast University, and they defeated them in the conference tournament to secure the conference tournament title and a NCAA Tournament bid. After upsetting Duke, they lost to Tennessee in the following round.
Now, the team moves to the Southern Conference, but the goal remains the same, to win the conference title. Mercer is not content with just making it into the tournament. They want to win it all. If they are going to accomplish their goal, Nwamu will be a key to their success.
With another solid year, Nwamu will continue to gain traction as a pivotal combo guard in the NBA.
“I definitely want to be play in the NBA,” said Nwamu. “That’s the goal I’m working towards everyday on the court, in the weight room, and in the film room. The NBA is definitely where I want to be.”
The NBA is evolving. General managers and scouts are searching for guards with efficient shooting capabilities and the mind of a floor general. Nwamu fits the mold perfectly.
Nwamu is still chasing his Jordan dreams. He always will. Not because he wants the fame, money, or accolades, but Jordan is his idol. Jordan was one of the main reasons he picked up a basketball.
Jordan inspired Nwamu, and Nwamu is already inspiring those around him. The chase fuels his hunger. Nwamu’s passion for the game keeps him going.
In an interview with WFMY News 2 in Greensboro, NC a few months ago, Anita Nwamu eloquently summarized her son’s immense passion for the game.
“He sleeps, eats, and drinks basketball,” she said. “He practices so hard, a bit too hard. We tell him to slow down, but he says, “No mom. I have to be the best, so I have to practice hard.””