With All Adversity Radwan Bakkali Has Faced He Still Has The Enthusiasm And Hunger To Give The Game All He Has

Radwan Bakkali is a 23 year old 108cm power forward/center from England that is playing his rookie season in Germany with the  ETB Wohnbau Miners(Germany-Regionalliga) curently averaging 14,2ppg and 9,6rpg. He began his basketball career with the Barking Abbey Leopards (EBL D3). He then played at Kilgore JC (JUCO) from 2015-2017 playing a total of 57 games. In the 2017-2018 season he made new experiences with Jacksonville (NCAA) playing 27 games averaging 3.3ppg, 2.3rpg. Last season he made one more jump and played with Indianapolis (NCAA2) playing 21 games averaging 1.8ppg, 1.5rpg. He spoke to germanhoops.com about his basketball career.

Congrats Radwan on signing with German Regionalliga team ETB Wohnbau Miners. After four years in the States playing college ball, why did you decide to start your professional career in Germany and not at home in the UK?

Thank you. I’m really excited about this opportunity in Germany. I’ve always wanted to travel doing what I love and now I have the chance to do that. I believe I’ll have the opportunity to develop and continue growing and getting better. I think I’ve found a great situation to start my career.

What do you know in general about the country Germany and it´s basketball? There have been guys from England in the last years that have played in Germany. Have you known of any guys that have played in Germany?

For a long time I’ve understood that Germany is a country with great basketball development, where the sport is appreciated and there have been a lot of British guys over the years do well there. I have spoken to Jamal Tahraoui a lot recently about his experience last season at Ibbenbueren and it was good to get his insight.

The ETB Wohnbau Miners like your game and especially your mentality. What was so appealing about this organization that made it easier for you to come to play?

Coach Iria Uxía Romarís Durán is extremely ambitious with great experience in the Spanish leagues and wants to bring Essen up to the level it once was. Her ambition and drive as well as the opportunity she sees for me to play a key role in the team was important for me. Having the opportunity to play and produce this next year is what I wanted most and I believe I have that with this coach and this organization.

You never averaged more than 3,3ppg in three leagues in the States with the JUCO, NCAA 2 and NCAA. How hungry and excited are you to finally play more and put up big time stats that will help Essen have success?

Despite not playing a lot in college I was able to learn a lot about myself as a player and a person. Even with all the adversity I have faced in my career so far I still have the enthusiasm and hunger to give this game everything I have. I’m very excited to get to Essen, to work hard and to prove the quality of player I am. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. With more experience I’m only going to get better.

With what type of expectations are you going into your rookie season in Germany? The Regionalliga is a guard dominated league when talking about the imports, but you are a big man. Are you confident that you could be an impact player in the Regionalliga?

The only expectation I have is to control what I can control everyday. Give maximum effort and the rest will take care of itself. I’m confident in my work and my abilities but it is time to show it. And I will be doing everything I can to show what I have to offer and most importantly impact team success. I have to match the coaches ambition of doing as best as we can for the club this season.

Let´s talk about your game. You’re a 210cm center that is hungry to show his abilities. If you had to describe your game to an NBA player who would best fit the description?

I’ve never been one to compare myself to anybody else. But I am a fan of some of the foreign bigs in the league like Nikola Jokic, Marc Gasol and in the past, Hakeem Olajuwon. I appreciate Jokic’s game a lot because he is so effective in every facet of the game without being super athletic and I hope I can have that type of impact in the future as I continue to improve.

What kind of Radwan Bakkali will fans see this season on the defensive end and do you feel like you could be a defensive stopper in important moments?

I have a lot of work to do but with my size, wide frame and length I believe I can play a role in affecting shots at the rim and being a good positional team defender. I have been challenging myself against high level guards defensively this summer and hopefully this will show when it is time to come against players in my position.

When looking at your game, what do you feel is a hidden strength in your game that doesn´t always get noticed right away on the court?

I feel as though when people see my size and body type they box me in as a “back-to-the-basket” big man. While this is a big part of my game and I enjoy getting physical on the inside, I am very comfortable facing the basket as well and I believe in my touch. Especially my midrange jump shot that is one of my favourite aspects to my game.

On what things have you been working on most on the court this summer so that you will be best prepared when you start your Regionalliga season in Germany?

Like I mentioned before my body is a constant project for me, trying to be in the best shape to play extended minutes with my frame. I have been doing a lot of work with my diet and in the weight room. Hopefully this will show on the court. I’ve been working out at my old high school this summer on my skill development with Rikki Broadmore (Head Coach of Hemel Storm), on top of joining in with Barking Abbey practices and I’m in a good groove at the moment.

After not getting many minutes in the last four years, how big is the chip on your shoulder to show everyone that you can truly produce on the court?

In this business you have to prove yourself everyday, whether I played a lot or not in the past I would have had to prove myself all over again at the next level. So I mentally don’t see myself at a disadvantage. Instead I am highly motivated to make the most of this opportunity and repay the coach for the chance she has given me to be part of the team and the organization.

After starting your basketball career with the Barking Abbey Leopards (EBL D3), you then played two seasons with Kilgore CC (JUCO) What kind of experience was this and what do you feel did you get most out of the experience?

I’ve only played 6 years of organized basketball and I’m very grateful to Lloyd Gardner and the other coaches at Barking Abbey for giving me a shot to pursue my dreams of going to America, getting a degree and now playing basketball professionally. When I first started I couldn’t even catch a ball! So this whole process has been a blessing. My time at Kilgore College with head coach Brian Hoberecht was probably the most important of all my time in America, getting acclimated to the change of culture and the change in level of basketball. Kilgore College was very demanding but it prepared me for the next level in terms of life as well as basketball. I still have a very good relationship with my coach and a lot of good life-long friends that I made there.

You then jumped to Jacksonville (NCAA) playing 27 games averaging 3.3ppg, 2.3rpg. How tough was it making such a huge jump from the JUCO to the top level NCAA? What was your wake up call to being an NCAA player?

Genuinely I feel like my time in JUCO prepared me for D1. What many people don’t understand is that JUCO is a lot more demanding in terms of practice and intensity than a lot of NCAA schools and the environment in JUCO is a lot tougher so I feel like I was well prepared. For the most part I enjoyed my time at Jacksonville, it’s a great school in a sunny location in Florida by the beach. Of course I would’ve liked to play more but having the opportunity to play against teams like Georgetown, NC State and Michigan was amazing. I used to watch their games in England as a fan and then suddenly I was in their gyms playing live on television!

You suddenly come from playing in empty gyms to playing Michigan and German big man Moritz Wagner losing 76-51 and playing 21 minutes and hauling down 3 rebounds. What memories do you have of that game?

Losing is never fun but the atmosphere in that arena was very surreal. Like you mentioned playing against high level players like Moritz Wagner was a great test. I remember getting into it with him a little because I caught him with an elbow on a box out. That whole game in general was a good memory and a great experience.

What do you feel was key at Jacksonville and playing for head coach Tony Jasick that helped you make the transition easier to the NCAA 2 and Indianapolis?

Coach Jasick gave me the amazing opportunity to achieve one of my dreams and play Division 1 basketball. I will always be grateful for that. Him and his staff were great, especially at player development and they definitely created a family vibe while I was there. Off the court he was the kind of guy to help you in anyway to make your experience more comfortable. I still keep up with their games and I think I’ll always be a Dolphin deep inside.

You finished at Indianapolis (NCAA2) playing 21 games averaging 1.8ppg, 1.5rpg. How tough was this season once again not playing much and just watching mostly during games?

It was probably my hardest season mentally if I’m honest. I feel like I had done everything in the summer to put myself in a position to be a key player in the team, we certainly had the talent to do more than we did which was also a shame. However, the coach is entitled to his decision and again I had the chance to learn a lot about myself. I know a lot of people who would’ve (and have) quit basketball after such an experience and because of that I am proud of myself for still having the desire and enthusiasm to excel in this sport no matter what.

You played at three different schools and at three different levels. How do you feel did you become a better player in the four years that you were abroad?

I’m truly proud of my experience in America. It was unorthodox but a lot of things about me are. At the end of the day I was able to go to America having only played basketball for two years, I experienced three different institutions, states and cultures and end up being the first person in my family to graduate with a bachelors degree. And still I am in a position to kick start my professional career so I have a lot to be proud of. Not every story has to be success after success. I think my story is interesting because it starts with what some people might perceive as failure after failure and yet I am still able to come back every time and give it another go.

Who was the toughest opponent that you played in the NCAA 2 that is in the NBA or in Europe now

You know what, I played against a lot of good bigs in my time in the NCAA but one player that stuck out to me was Dani Elgadi. He’s a skilled Canadian player from Brock University that I played against when I was at Jacksonville and we took a summer tour to Toronto. I never underestimated Canadian basketball but we had no clue about the level. He played extremely well against us, dominating all aspects of the game and this was a memory that sticks out for me. Very humbling. He also played his rookie season in Germany for Rasta Vechta. I have a lot of respect for him and he doesn’t even know it.

Please list your five best teammates of all-time?

Tye Wilburn – played with me at both Kilgore and Uindy. We remain great friends and he always pushed and motivated me when things got tough, we would train together 1-on-1 a lot in our own time. When he’s done playing professionally overseas I reckon he’s going to be a great skill development coach/motivational speaker.

Malik Griffith-Johnson – played with me at Barking Abbey. Still to this day one of the fastest players I’ve ever seen with a basketball. We developed a brotherly bond in my early days of playing basketball and still keep up with each other to this day.

Josh Steel – Also a teammate from Barking Abbey, one of the best guards in England and has had pro experience in the Spanish second division already. He has helped me a lot this summer with rebuilding and getting back to myself mentally and physically.

Joe Lockwood – another Barking Abbey graduate. Someone I looked up to a lot when I first started out. He has had experience playing for Great Britain as well as Post University in America. I remember he would always check my packed lunches to make sure I was eating healthy when I was trying to lose a lot of weight at the beginning of my career, simple things like that let me know he was someone who genuinely wanted to see me doing good and I’ve always appreciate him for that.

Patrick Lyons – also went to Barking Abbey, an Irishman who is as resilient as they come. Despite having many injury niggles he had the toughness and determination to make his dreams come true of playing basketball in America and I have a lot of respect for him. I truly believe as long as he’s breathing he’ll find a way to get on that court and do the best for his team. Definitely a good example of never giving up.

Please name your personal own NBA Rushmore. Which four heads would you pick past or present for your list?

Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

What is your personal opinion of the never ending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan or Lebron James?

I’ve always believed that you can’t compare these two because Lebron has always been more Magic Johnson than he is Michael Jordan.  If I was pushed to pick however I would say Michael Jordan because of the impact he had on not only the game but society and hoops culture, especially in that era, an effect that is still felt today. Having said this I’m a big fan of Lebron and everything he’s achieved for himself and his family. We can appreciate both without having to hate on the other!

What was the last movie that you saw?

I am a die-hard Harry Potter fan so I feel like I’m always watching one of the eight movies even though I’ve seen them all a million times. The last one I saw was a Deathly Hallows Part 2 re-run.

Thanks Radwan for the chat.

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