Wednesday, 14.04.2021
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The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands
   The people who make a difference in the Canary Islands

Exclusive interview: Luke Sikma
Following famous footsteps
The new American face at basketball side CB Canarias is no stranger to the Canaries, although his move here is a big step-up in more ways than one.

26.10.2013 - Luke Sikma has previous experience of the islands, having lived on La Palma for a year when he played for the local side in the LEB division before moving to the mainland, where he starred for Burgos in their double winning year last season.  Financial problems prevented Burgos from taking up their berth in the ACB league to rub shoulders with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Caja Laboral.  However, the 24-year-old did not take long to find another ACB club and he jumped at the chance to sign for La Laguna-based Canarias and return to shores which offer a much warmer winter than his native state of Washington, not far from the Canadian border.

Island Connections caught up with him on the eve of the new season, which started last weekend, to see how he was getting on ahead of his first foray into the best basketball league in the world after the NBA, in which his famous father Jack Sikma starred for Seattle and later Milwaukee for many years.  It is no coincidence that Luke has asked to wear the 43 jersey at Canarias, the number worn with such distinction by his Dad at Seattle.

Settling in here is proving much easier than for most new ‘imports’, as the well-spoken 6 foot8 inch centre with a fondness for shooting three-pointers from the perimeter readily acknowledges.  “Having lived in La Palma, I kind of knew what to expect in terms of life in the Canaries.  I was really happy to come back and it has certainly lived up to expectations so far.  It is beautiful here, the people are really nice and I have already explored the island a little bit.  Things are even better on the basketball side and I could not be more happy.  I am fitting in well with my team mates and we have a really good group”.

If he was expecting to be a fringe player when he signed, Luke - the youngest player in a highly experienced squad - could now find himself thrown in very much at the deep end among the big boys of Spanish basketball due to fate, following the terrible pre-season injury to Fotis Lampropoulos, whose torn cruciate knee ligaments have put him out for the entire season, propelling Sikma up the list of forwards, a situation he is happy to face even though his thoughts are with his team mate.  “Someone is going to have to step up and take his place and I think I have the ability to do that.  If the coach picks me I have to be ready when my number is called.”

Bachelor Luke lives on his own Santa Cruz but the prospect holds no fears for him as, in stark contrast to the stereotype of American players who head straight for a well-known fast-food outlet for sustenance, he is adamant that he will be, “doing his own cooking” and has already familiarised himself with the big food stores near his new lodgings.  That said, he openly admits that he will miss his family - his parents and two brothers (one younger, one older) - although he realises that he is not the only one suffering as a result of his exile.  “It is tough not just for me but for my Mom also, who is bouncing around visiting my Dad, who is coaching in Minnesota, my brothers in Connecticut and Seattle, and making plans to come out here in November to see me”.

Mention of his father necessarily raises the inevitable question, not so much about Jack’s glittering career which brought him an NBA championship no fewer than seven All Star appearances, but about the pressure having such an illustrious parent places on him.  “I don’t get tired at all of people mentioning him to me.  Granted, there was probably some pressure on me in High School and College basketball, just having the same name on the back of the jersey and everyone saying “Hey, are you going to be as good as your Dad?”  They’d say it in jest but you still took it to heart a little bit.  But now I think I have formed myself into my own player and made my own identity.  Also, I now see how difficult it is to get into the NBA and how well he really did.  People come up to me not just in Seattle but even here in Spain and say, ‘I watched your dad for a long time and was a big fan’, so yes it is really a point of pride for me.”

Dad Jack keeps up with the career of his middle son despite the thousands of miles that separate them.  “Last year the LEB league put a lot of games on line so he was able to watch them.  I still have to work out how he can do it for the ACB this season.  He e-mails me after every game to ask how things went.”

In terms of predictions where Canarias will end up this year, Luke is very upbeat even though he admits he is, “not the ideal person” to ask as this is his first year in the top flight.  “I am still a little unfamiliar with the league but the important thing is to fight to get to the play-offs, despite the big blow suffered with Fotis.  We still have the ability and we definitely have the chance to fight for a place but the focus has to be on the next game.”

In terms of ‘bosom buddies’, he is obviously already very close to his American colleague Levi Rost and his wife Leslie (who came to Tenerife in 2006 and are still here!), and has made particular friends with fellow-centre Blagota Sekulic from Montenegro and the other non-Spaniards on the team.  ”There is friendly rivalry between ‘them’ (the Spaniards) and us.  We are Team America in the broad sense of the term as we have two Argentineans too, so it gives us a bit of a separate identity, but all in good fun.  I speak Spanish so I get along with everyone.” 

Whether or not Luke stays around as long as Rost is not an issue for the moment as he is happy to get the season fully under way and then think ahead.  “I want to play at the highest level possible and this is the best outside the NBA. I love it in Santa Cruz and will keep coming to work every day to help the team win. When the time comes I will take a step back and decide on the next stage of my life”. 

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