Giving out the Help-Side Column's Regular Season Awards
ZAGREB (Croatia) - Some are playing to win, some for pride, and others...well, just for the pleasure of being involved in the Help-Side Column's first ever Regular Season Awards. Unfortunately for the winners, there aren't any actual rewards for these awards, and the award ceremony never happened.
(Other than in my head, of course. We shared laughs, it was fun.)
The N'Golo Kante Award for the unsung hero - Lahaou Konate
When Leicester City FC won the Premier League in 2016, everybody was talking about their Vardys, Mahrezes or Schmeichels, when in reality, their real hero was N'Golo Kante. And once Kante left, that was the end of the fairy tale for Leicester, while he went on to win the Premier League once more with Chelsea, and became the FIFA World Cup winner, as well.
And yet, he's never on front pages. The unsung hero prototype.
Well, his Basketball Champions League carbon copy was also born in Paris in 1991. It's Nanterre 92's Lahaou Konate, who seems to be the glue guy for coach Pascal Donnadieu over the past two seasons. He usually gets the toughest assignments on the defensive end, like shutting down Corey Walden in a must-win game over UNET Holon this week, and the offensive plays are rarely drawn up for him.
And yet, he's managed to get to 15 points three times this season, he'll get you a +19 advantage while he's on the court in another huge game against PAOK at home, he'll do the dirty work and the fans will always love him.
So will I. It's fine if Jeremy Senglin is Vardy, Dominic Waters is Mahrez and Julian Gamble becomes a Schmeichel here. Because on the inside, we all know that Konate is the reason for Nanterre's superb season.
The Plaxico Burress "Award" for shooting yourself in the foot - Sidigas Avellino
I'll just let former Super Bowl champion's Wikipedia do the talking here:
"On November 28, 2008, Burress suffered an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right thigh at the nightclub LQ on Lexington Avenue in New York City when his Glock pistol in the pocket of his black-colored jeans began sliding down his leg; apparently in reaching for his gun, he inadvertently pressed the trigger, causing the gun to fire."
So he literally shot himself in the foot. But the phrasal idiom of inflicting the damage on yourself can be transferred to the world of sports, and it this case, to the Sidigas Avellino squad. The Italian team shot itself in the foot by blowing a huge advantage over Nizhny Novgorod and Le Mans in the battle for Play-Offs in Group A.
With four Gamedays to go, Avellino owned a 7-3 record. But four straight defeats sent them packing, with this play summarizing their season better than words can:
The Rodney Hood Award for the best low-key lefty shooter - Antoine Eito
It's amazing how the left-handed players, especially those who specialize in the shooting department, look so much smoother and eye-pleasing than the right-handed guys. And when they are good, they are really good, like James Harden on global level, or Tyrese Rice, Brad Oleson, Paris Lee over here.
But then there are guys like Rodney Hood, who aren't always lighting it up, but when they are, it's a thing of beauty. Obviously, no lefty will ever reach the aesthetic level of one Henry Hi-Fly Williams. But, Le Mans' Antoine Eito joined the Lethal Low-key Lefty Legion with his two daggers that sent the French champs to the Play-Offs.
Bonus points for doing it when it mattered most. See you in the Round of 16, Antoine!
The 1998 1. FC Kaiserslautern Award for the best newcomer - Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem
The German Football Bundesliga was a different kind of competition in the 1990s. Basically, everybody had a chance to win the championship. Even clubs like 1. FC Kaiserslautern, who were in the second division in 1997, and then upon promotion went on to win the Bundesliga in 1998!
The 1998 Kaiserslautern got their twin brother in the 2019 Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem. Their 12-2 debut in the Regular Season proves that they hit the Ctrl+C on Kaiserslautern's 1998 campaign, and Ctrl+V on this season's Basketball Champions League. Don't be surprised if the Israeli powerhouse wins the whole thing as a newcomer!
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The 1996 Manchester United Award for the biggest comeback - Besiktas Sompo Japan
Yeah, yeah, I know, a lot of soccer, but that's how I roll (and how eyes roll, too). In January 1996, it seemed like the Premiership would be going to Newcastle United, as they owned a 12-point lead over Manchester United in the standings. But, ManU struck back and went on not only to erase all of their deficit by March, but also won the title by four points, completing a 16-point overhaul.
Fast forward to 2019, and Besiktas Sompo Japan must have been drinking from the same bottle, because what once was a 1-4 and a 3-5 team in Group D, is now arguably the hottest team heading into the Play-Offs.
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Besiktas are on a 6-game winning streak, with coach Dusko Ivanovic timing the rise to perfection. This is a different kind of BJK team, nobody scored more than 75 points against them since mid-December!
The Kevin Punter Award for the best mid-season signing - Jordan Theodore
The story is all to familiar. Just last season, AEK went shopping during the holidays and got themselves an elite scorer in Kevin Punter, who played for the Polish side Rosa Radom up until that point. You know the rest, Punter and AEK were a match made in heaven, winning the 2018 Basketball Champions League.
AEK were on the market again...and came back with none other than the 2017 Basketball Champions League MVP Jordan Theodore! Good luck to all the other clubs, stopping the one-two punch of JT and Vince Hunter seems almost impossible...
The Jeff Taylor Award for provoking the best shout - Andrea De Nicolao
Finally, what's a Basketball Champions League highlight without the legendary Jeff Taylor behind the mic?
His ARE YOU KIDDING ME's are absolutely legendary. And it must be something about him and the Italian clubs, because they always seem to be going to OT's when Jeff is covering the game.
Well, at least we got treated with another voice-breaking shout, this time around thanks to Umana Reyer Venezia's Andrea De Nicolao.
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Grazie, Andrea! And, never change, Jeff. You are the number one voice of international basketball for a reason!
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