Paris Lee claims Gameday 9 MVP honor
ANTWERP (Belgium) - Telenet Giants Antwerp revealed on Tuesday night they have a human blow torch on their team. He goes by the name of Paris Lee.
The only thing the Illinois native was missing as he went to work on Montakit Fuenlabrada was a full face mask, one that would have needed tinted lenses because the bright flames on his hot hands burned white hot.
The 23-year-old was scintillating. Lee connected on 7 of 9 shots from behind the arc and had 27 points in all to fire Antwerp to a 102-78 victory, their third in the last four Basketball Champions League games.
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When he wasn't connecting from deep, he was penetrating and scoring, or dishing. Lee finished with 10 assists and walked off the court with an efficiency of +35.
Lee's performance was so vital for the Giants and so impressive that he's been named as the Gameday 9 MVP of the Week.
When the inevitable question came in the post-game press conference on Tuesday, "Paris, was it your best game with the Giants so far?" A wide-eyed, grinning ear-to-ear Lee left no doubt that it was.
"Man, it's probably the best game of my whole career," he answered.
If you determine how well a player has performed on statistics alone, Lee can remove the word "probably" from his answer because there is no doubt that it was the best game of his Giants career and his life. Looking back at his college days when he played in the NCAA for Illinois State, he did have some terrific games for the Redbirds, where he played from 2013-17 before embarking on his pro career with Antwerp at the start of last season.
“OUR MAIN FOCUS IS TO MAKE SURE WE TAKE CARE OF OUR LAST TWO HOME GAMES. (BUT) WE’RE GOING TO PLAY EVERY GAME AS IF WE’RE GOING TO WIN, WHETHER IT’S AT HOME OR ON THE ROAD.”
In an NCAA game against Tulsa on December 7, 2016, he nailed 5 of 8 shots from deep and scored 18 points and Lee on five other occasions made 4 3-pointers. His career high in points came as a senior in a February 7, 2017, game against Drake. He was 4 of 8 from long range that day and had 26 points.
This season in the Basketball Champions League, Lee did a 3-game stretch against CEZ Nymburk, Brose Bamberg and Dijon when he went a combined 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) from long range. In his previous two BCL games against defending champions AEK and Lietkabelis, Lee was just 1 of 10.
"Coach and my teammates have been telling me, 'shoot the ball, keeping shooting' because I've been like really down on my shot. And today (Tuesday), it was going in."
After a couple of days to digest what had happened, Lee joined the Coast to Coast podcast and emphasized how important it was to get the support of coach Roel Moors and the other players.
"Just to hear that from the coach and teammates gave me confidence, it made the shots easier," he said. "After that first one went in, it felt good. It felt like I was going to have a really good game. Everything started opening up."
And the plus side to hitting the shots from the perimeter is that the defense has to come out and guard him.
"I started getting opportunities to drive because they had to play me up close and I’m fast," Lee said. "When they got up close to me, I was able to blow past (them), once my 3-ball started falling."
The great cause for celebration was of course the victory. Montakit Fuenlabrada had won the first encounter between the sides in Spain.
Now Antwerp are heading into the holiday break fourth in Group C, arguably the toughest of the four pools, with a 5-4 record and a two-game lead over Lietkabelis and Fuenlabrada (both 3-6).
The Belgian club effectively has a 3-game lead over both of their nearest challengers, however, because if a tie-breaker comes into play to determine a final place in the standings, they would win it. Antwerp swept their two encounters with the former and they have a better goal differential in the games against the latter.
"Our main focus is to make sure we take care of our last two home games," Lee said of the clashes with Nymburk on January 15 and with Dijon on January 29. "(But) We’re going to play every game as if we’re going to win, whether it’s at home or on the road."