Basketball Standout Becomes First Male NCAA D1 Athlete for LCS
Four years ago, a new face with bright eyes and a big smile showed up in the halls of Lenawee Christian School. That face belonged to a young man who stood out, literally, measuring 6-feet 7-inches tall. His name was Ikechukwu Omili, Nigerian for “Power of God,” but to most he was known simply as Maxwell.
Maxwell entered LCS late in his freshman year as a foster son of a family whose son was a junior at LCS. Not long after his arrival, he attended his first school sporting event, the 2012 Class D Regional Final game, where he saw an undersized LCS squad fall to Climax-Scotts and their two college-bound big men. After the game, he made a vow to himself to add a few more championship banners in LCS’ gymnasium. Since basketball was played differently at LCS, it would take a lot of work and grit to earn a spot on the historically dominant squad and even more work to triumph over the best teams in the region.
After training through the spring and summer, Maxwell took on a challenge by learning a completely new sport, American football. He felt that football helped him become a part of the school culture at LCS. As with most Class D schools, many athletes at LCS participate in multiple sports so many of the players with which he shared the gridiron would soon become his teammates on the hard wood. Under Coach Scott McKelvey, Maxwell and his teammates ended his sophomore basketball season in the Class D state championship game with a buzzer-beating loss to three-time state champion, Southfield Christian. As he grew into his role on the team, he saw the value of his hard work paying off, and also observed how much the impact of strong team leadership could extend a season.
Coach McKelvey described the next two seasons with Maxwell by saying, “Over the next two years, Maxwell began to fill a primary leadership role on the field and on the court. He led in team workouts, pre-game warm ups, and used his infectious personality to encourage, challenge, and inspire his teammates. He made plenty of mistakes in the process, as all leaders do, but we began to see his mind, soul, and skill catch up with his stature.”
Upon graduation in 2016, Maxwell could look back and see that his vow to himself had been fulfilled. He had added to the championship tradition at LCS, but he had not yet reached one of the two main goals that brought him to America. He had worked hard to graduate high school, but he wasn’t sure where or how he was going to attend college. He wanted to continue competing as an athlete, and the opportunities he had been offered didn’t match up with his dreams. He had invested so much time and effort and was feeling like the vision in his mind’s eye was slipping away.
Shortly after graduation, Maxwell attended summer workouts with Coach Joe Francis, an assistant boys varsity basketball coach of the Cougars. Coach Francis wanted to help Maxwell reach his dream, so he reconnected with a coaching contact, Assistant Coach James Holland, at Western Michigan University to see if there might be a place for him with the Broncos. After reviewing Maxwell’s game film and statistics, Coach Holland requested a meeting to learn more about the high school standout. “The two of them really connected,” said Coach Francis. “After answering many questions and getting to know each other, Coach Holland introduced Maxwell to head coach, Steve Hawkins, who welcomed him to the team.” Maxwell responded to the situation by saying, “I am grateful to God for another wonderful opportunity to shine the light of Christ through the gifts and talents He has given me. I give all the glory to God for my achievements and success because it is God who gives me the strength to get through every situation, ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength [Phillippians 4:13, NIV].’ I am so blessed and thankful for the experiences that shaped me, the training I received at home, at church, and at LCS. Most of all, I am thankful to God for giving me a family that was willing to sacrifice so much to send me to the U.S. to get a great education.”
Maxwell graduates having made a permanent mark on the history of Cougars basketball. After just three seasons, his 100 blocks are the most in a career. He also holds top-10 career marks in points scored, rebounds, free throws made, free throws attempted, and he made All-County honors in all three of his seasons. His hard work, drive, and leadership have made a difference in his life, but also in the story of his team. During his time at LCS, the Cougars ended each season deep in the tournament with three district titles, two regional titles, and a state runner-up… proof that great leadership can take a team far into the post-season.
As Ikechukwu “Maxwell” Omili begins his new adventure with the Western Michigan University basketball team, he’ll face a new challenge — one not all too unfamiliar to him. He’ll be joining a team with established leaders, history, and high expectations, and he’ll be ready to earn his place through faith, hard work, and leadership.