- National Teams
Lewis Champion has won five trophies in the past two seasons, and is now hoping to add more silverware in the coming weeks in his first season at Team Northumbria.
The 22-year-old spent over a decade with Reading Rockets, before deciding it was time to move on last summer. Champion made the switch north and the chance to enroll at Northumbria University was an important factor.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to make,” he said. “It just felt like the right time for a change of scenery and I wanted to study and get my degree. That was the main reason, and the transition has been smooth.”
Champion helped the Rockets to back-to-back Division One league titles, and almost completed a clean sweep last season but for defeat in the Playoff final against Leeds. The left-handed guard showed his capability of performing on the big stage by claiming the MVP award at the EBL Final Fours in 2013.
“That gave me lots of confidence,” he said. “I don’t really ever feel pressure when I’m playing. I think that’s because I’m a very laid back person. I like playing in the big occasions.
“It was very special (winning consecutive titles) and even more so to do it with a hometown team, where I came through the junior programme.”
With Northumbria gathering momentum with eight wins in their last nine league games, Champion’s big-game mentality could prove an important factor in the run-in with his side two points behind the leaders. The real test of their title credentials comes in facing three of the top five in their next three fixtures and Champion has called on his side to be more ruthless in closing out games.
“We need to stay consistent and continue to develop our killer instinct,” he said. “So many times in games we go up by 10+ and we struggle to put teams away and sometimes let them come back into the game.
“Our team is full of guys that are willing to take on the challenge. The good thing is that we are in control of the outcome. We just need to keep performing and stay consistent so we will be up there come the end of the season.”
Last season, whilst Champion was helping Reading to a second consecutive league title, Team Northumbria finished second from bottom with a 6-20 record. And their summer recruit is pleased to have been able to play a part in a change of fortunes for his new side.
“It’s exciting to be part of a team that has turned it around this year, especially now we are close to the top, when the team was near the bottom of the table last season.”
Northumbria take a break from league action next weekend as the BUCS Final 8’s take centre stage at UEL Sportsdock. Champion was part of the squad that won the Premier North for the first time with an 8-2 record and will be considered strong favourites to make the Championship final.
The inclusion of Newcastle Eagles quartet Scott Martin, Darius Defoe, Drew Lasker and Charles Smith this season has been a huge boost for Northumbria. Champion has been able to learn from their involvement, and has also paid close attention to Newcastle’s general Rahmon Fletcher.
“Playing in the BUCS competition has been really fun,” said Champion. “I think the introduction of the Eagles players has made it a luxury to play extra basketball. We get to play and learn from some guys at the top level of basketball in England and also get to share the responsibility between us as well.
“One guy I’ve watched this year being in Newcastle is the Eagles guard (Rahmon) Fletcher. With us both being lefties and playing the same position, it just makes sense.”
Due to the affiliation between the two teams, Northumbria cannot play in the BBL, and that’s somewhere Champion aspires to play, at some point in the future. However, first and foremost, a degree is the priority.
“That’s my main goal, along with being successful with Team Northumbria,” he said. “If I’m able to play in the BBL or an opportunity to play at a higher level arises I’d be open to it as long as it doesn’t interfere with getting my degree.”
Champion was part of the historic promotion-winning GB U20 squad at the 2013 European Championships, which saw Devon van Oostrum named as tournament MVP before going on to cement his place in the Senior side. Northumbria Head Coach Marc Steutel served as Douglas Leichner’s assistant during the tournament in Romania, and Champion is pleased to re-unite with the two time EBL Coach of the Year.
“He’s definitely one of the best home grown coaches we have here in England. I’ve enjoyed playing under him a lot and he was another big reason for my switch to Northumbria.
“I learnt a lot that summer from my team-mates and coaches,” Champion recalled. “But probably most importantly, I learnt that I could compete with some of the best young players in our country and in Europe, which was good for my confidence.
Regarding DVO’s performances, he added: “It was a spectacular sight. He’s a great player – one of the best all-round players and point guards I’ve played with, and against. I definitely learnt a lot competing with him and watching him play. It motivates me to want to reach that level of playing for the senior side.”
It could be a historic next few months for the Northumbria programme as they push for silverware. Champion, who competed at the inaugural Hoopsfix All-Star Classic, is hitting top form at just the right time, with a 25-point haul coming in their most recent win at Westminster Warriors.
“Individually, I would say since the Christmas break, I’ve been playing at a level that I’m happy with,” he said. “I feel strongly that I still have another gear or two that I could go to with improvement on certain aspects of my game.
“I need to improve on my ability to be a leader on the court and playing consistent on and off the ball defence.”