Quarantined at home, Joe Ikhinmwin rued how London Lions’ ambitions for a clean sweep were destroyed by Covid.

The BBL Cup, in the grand scheme of these unusual times, is still only a metal trinket and a disposable moment in sporting time.

Health, life, is what matters most.

The London Lions captain has thankfully emerged unscathed from the wave of coronavirus that swept through his body and his team ahead of January’s final, decimating their roster to the point where they could field just seven players in a noble but ultimately unsuccessful challenge to Newcastle in the final.

Back at full strength, he sees Sunday’s BBL Trophy final against Plymouth Raiders not as a chance to make amends, however, but simply to showcase the talents on tap.

“Because you can’t help Covid,” he says. “Covid has taken a toll on our club. From last season when I felt like we would have on the league.

“It affected the Cup final in terms of who was playing and who wasn’t.

“I just see the Trophy as a whole new tournament. And we have just got to go out there and win. I mean, that’s the bottom line.”

Worcester, we should acknowledge, will unite the recipients of the BBL’s new money from abroad.

Plymouth, purchased by Turkish billionaire Enver Yücel 13 months ago, versus London, bankrolled by American venture capitalists 777 Partners, who might soon also secure a significant stake in the British Basketball League at large.

Stakes significantly raised for both franchises.

In his ninth season with the Lions, the club’s longest-serving player has spanned an era during which the capital outfit were habitually to be found languishing in mid-table before their ascent towards contention and then a first title in 2019, and now with the backing to take on the beasts of Europe.

All change. But as the skipper and keeper of the flame, Ikhinmwin has made deliberate efforts to ensure standards and traditions are established and then solidly maintained.

“I feel like I’m big when it comes to the culture of the club,” the 33-year-old outlines. “I mean, obviously, we’ve had a high turnover of players through the years.

“But I think it’s just about knowing what it means to wear the Lions jersey, knowing what comes with it. Knowing we have a target on our back, whether we’re first in league or last in the league. And just really letting everyone know that this is the style of basketball that we play.

“I define that culture as just a London-gritty, deal-with-whatever-comes-our-way culture. I feel like it’s always been tough for us. And it will continue to be this way. But we’ve got to fight through adversity, whether that be on the court, off the court, and into the future.”

One season with Newcastle apart when he returned from college in the USA, plus a curious two-month hiatus in 2014, the forward has been content to embed himself in his hometown and actively push for hoops to cut through the noise.

A product of Barking Abbey, he has thrown himself into myriad initiatives that make a difference on the ground, including Bounce for Change, aimed at lifting the barriers for disadvantaged children through sport.

The pandemic has placed so many of these valuable schemes in a deep freeze.

Upon the thaw, the Lions can turn their bold statements of intent into genuine action within the community, Ikhinmwin believes.

“Basketball is an opportunity and a gateway for lots of young people in underprivileged backgrounds and privileged backgrounds,” he affirms.

“To have a sport where we can come together and grow together. I feel like it’s a great opportunity to raise awareness about so many topics and issues.

“And that’s what we’re trying to do on a community front. I think when we come out of Covid, we’re going to see a different aggressive community outreach from the London Lions.

“And hopefully, we’re bringing more people to the game of basketball and enlightening more people about the BBL as a whole. And across the league, I hope we do that a bit better as well.

“It’s about everyone having this ethos and this being a part of British basketball culture.”

Picking up prizes will help promote the cause. Courtesy of their unprecedented depth and the banner names attracted, London are on a lofty perch with everyone else eager to knock them off.

Ideal prep for the ferocity of a final where the Lions, who took the three-game league series with Plymouth 2-1, will be regarded as favourites on reputation alone.

“It’s part of the game,” Ikhinmwin asserts. “And to be honest, I feel like when I joined the club, we were always getting people’s best shot.

“No matter where we were in the league, whether we were first, whether we were scraping into the playoffs, I always feel like every night, every team comes to play against us.”

The unintended consequence of the Lions’ transformation, of course, is that their totem is no longer assured of time on the court. Other loyal servants, like Andre Lockhart too, have had roles reduced or even been asked to sit out.

All in the name of progress. That, Ikhinmwin insists, is where those cultural demands keep the ties bound tightly, no matter who gets playing time and who does not.

“It’s just about always being ready and always setting an example,” he underlines.

“Whether I’m on the floor, whether I’m on the bench, wherever I’m not in kit, I come and I try and bring an energy. And that’s the example I want to set for whoever else is on the bench as well.

“One through 12, we’ve got to support each other.

“Whether you’re a starter, whether you’re on the bench, whether you’re not picked to play tonight, that’s also part of Lions’ culture.”

Watch streaming coverage of the Trophy finals via from 2.30pm on Sunday

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Photos: Mansoor Ahmed

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