SZN Opener is back with new episodes dropping every week. On Season 2 of this dynamic podcast series, host and noted sports analyst Monica McNutt showcases Black college athletes and explores their triumphs, challenges and aspirations along their sports journeys.
In Episode 6, USC forward Vincent Iwuchukwu details his journey from globe-trotting military kid to playing USC basketball. He also reflects on returning to the court since suffering a cardiac event as a freshman, and supporting teammate Bronny James through a near-identical experience.
Iwuchukwu was a die-hard soccer fan growing up
Growing up overseas in South Korea and Germany, Iwuchukwu was all about soccer early on.
“It was the first sport I played,” he says. “I honestly thought by this time in my life, I’d be playing for Barcelona in Spain. So this is definitely a little different from the childhood dream I had growing up.”
When his family settled in San Antonio, Texas, Iwuchukwu joined the middle school basketball team because they didn’t have a soccer team. The more he played, he developed a deeper appreciation for the game. Basketball has since surpassed soccer as his favorite sport, he says.
“I wanted bragging rights, that’s really why I kept playing (basketball). And from there, I fell in love while I’m trying to get better at the sport,” he tells McNutt. “It’s something that I can take beyond what my mind had conceived it to be. And now I’m here.”
Iwuchukwu attended La Lumiere School and Southern California Academy—which are known for producing professional athletes—before landing at the University of Southern California for college.
Vince is one of two USC Trojans who suffered cardiac events in recent years
It was the summer of his freshman year at USC when Iwuchukwu suffered cardiac arrest during a team practice. One year later, USC Trojans teammate Bronny James, son of Lakers star LeBron James, went into cardiac arrest during a summer workout as a freshman—eerily similar to what Iwuchukwu went through.
The two Trojans have since returned to the court. Thanks to the USC trainers who acted quickly to revive the players, they averted two life-threatening situations.
Both Iwuchukwu and James, despite the unfortunate circumstances, found comfort in having the other to confide in through the difficult and scary experience.
“It’s so crazy to say, but I’m low-key happy that I have someone that’s been through it with me, because I’m not alone,” says Iwuchukwu. “It’s happened to one of my close brothers, and I’m just glad I’m over there to be able to help him.”
“There’s a great support system around us, from the coaches to your teammates to your own family,” he adds. “I was telling him, ‘Whatever happens, stay close to your family.’”
While Iwuchukwu is back on the court with the Trojans, that wasn’t always guaranteed, says the 7’1” forward.
“There was definitely a moment where I was like, man, playing basketball is over with,” he recalls. “It was a tough mental battle to go through thinking that it would be over, and I’m just glad that I have people around me to really help me process that … and use that energy that I had into something positive.”
Thoughts on NIL and joining the Big Ten Conference
Iwuchukwu also shares his thoughts on USC joining the Big Ten Conference and why he’s not convinced that NIL (name, image and likeness) is a detriment to college sports.
Catch the full conversation with Vincent Iwuchukwu above. Listen to Episode 6 of SZN Opener Season 2 on the Urban One podcasts platform or your favorite streaming app.
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