AEK's Mr InVince-able once again is MVP of the Week
MIES (Switzerland) - As the Regular Season winds down in the Basketball Champions League, one thing is certain.
Last year's winners, AEK, are surefire title contenders. That doesn't mean this team that's already got a spot in the Play-Offs sewn up is a lock to even make it past the Round of 16. Yet AEK have provided enough evidence that a repeat is possible. And the player giving much of that evidence has been the high-flying, hustling and energetic Vince Hunter.
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If the season were over right now, Hunter would be the favorite to be named BCL MVP. His latest effort in a 90-82 win at Montakit Fuenlabrada on Wednesday was similar to his others in the AEK jersey this season.
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He had 24 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals.
When the Basketball Champions League braintrust gathered to discuss MVP of the Week candidates, well, you know who everyone was talking about.
Yes, Hunter has been named Gamedaty 12 MVP of the Week. He was also the Gameday 4 MVP.
It's not that he's doing anything different to other seasons. He's just doing it a little more consistently.
"I don't have any secret," he said. "I just try to play hard, go out there and do my job every day. My teammates are looking for me and I'm playing with confidence. "
His latest double-double was his third of the campaign. He could easily have more. Hunter has twice had 9-rebound games and on three other occasions pulled down 8 rebounds. He has scored in double-digits in all but two games.
Hunter has averaged 18.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks.
“PEOPLE SAW THAT WE LOST OUR FIRST CAME IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE AND OUR FIRST GAME IN THE DOMESTIC LEAGUE AND THEY THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO BE A BUST. THEY DIDN'T THINK WE WERE GOING TO DO AS WELL THIS YEAR. (BUT) GOING TO THE PLAY-OFFS, NOTHING CHANGES. WE JUST HAVE TO KEEP PLAYING OUR GAME AND JUST KEEP BUILDING THAT TEAM CHEMISTRY AND GOING FURTHER.”
So what precisely is his job?
"Just play hard and give my team that extra edge on the court," he said.
Hunter has thrived with Luka Banchi as coach. The Italian took the reins during the summer.
"He came over here and brought over the offense, his style of play and of course, it's good for us because we're 10-2," he said. "It's been working for us. I feel like it can only get better from here on out, going into the Play-Offs while he's been coaching us."
AEK have games at Lietkabelis and at home to Telenet Giants Antwerp remaining in the Regular Season. Only UCAM Murcia, the club AEK narrowly beat at last year's Final Four in Athens, has a better record at 11-1 while Iberostar Tenerife and fellow Group C side Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem, are also both 10-2.
Is this 10-2 record the Greek outfit should be celebrating, though, considering they were just 8-6 at the conclusion of group play last season and still went on a run to the title?
Ten teams had more wins and less losses than AEK last season heading into the Play-Offs, yet AEK was the one to prevail.
Hunter makes no apologies for his team's impressive record. He thinks if anything, the better the record, the better for the team.
"Of course we're in a better position than we were last year," he said. "We're in first or second (looking ahead to the Play-Offs) right now, depending on how we end in the Regular Season. We're having a great season.
"Every win builds our confidence up and I feel like we're going to be very confident going into the Play-Offs."
There is little doubt that AEK, because of last year's success, is a team that everyone is gunning for.
"Definitely for the whole season, since we won the championship last year, we've had big expectations," he said. "People saw that we lost our first came in the Champions League and our first game in the domestic league and they thought we were going to be a bust.
"They didn't think we were going to do as well this year. (But) Going to the Play-Offs, nothing changes. We just have to keep playing our game and just keep building that team chemistry and going further.
If they make it to the Final Four, it won't be their first of the season. Hunter and his AEK teammates will travel to Rio de Janeiro next month and be one of four teams to take part in the FIBA Intercontinental Cup. The only other Greek clubs to have won that competition, which dates back to 1965, are Panathinaikos (1996) and Olympiacos (2013).
"That's going to be something new to me," Hunter said. "I've never been to South America. I'm looking forward to that and it's always fun to keep playing basketball and to travel to play basketball and do what you get paid to do.
"Every trophy (is important). Playing with the team last year, we won the Greek Cup and the Champions League. It was very important for us to win the Greek Cup. I knew then, and two to three years ago, I won it with Panathinaikos. It's always important to win something."