The Queen has a new king: AEK's Justin Tillman is November MVP
MIES (Switzerland) - It seems to be the season of the bigs in the Basketball Champions League. After Pinar Karsiyaka center Vernon Carey Jr picked up the October MVP award, AEK BETSSON BC's man in the middle, Justin Tillman, is receiving the accolade for November.
With his 17-point, 8-rebound and 15-point, 10-rebound performances in the respective games against Polish champions King Szczecin, Tillman was the best player on the best team of the month, earning himself the right to add the BCL November MVP title to his resume.
"It feels good, I'm just appreciating it because of all the hard work I put in all throughout the summer and just getting here, getting acclimated to the program, the playing style, just playing for a new organization. It shows all the hard work I put in," AEK's 27-year-old center said.
The Queen is one of only three unbeaten teams after four gamedays, and Tillman is a major reason why.
He got to double figures in each game, he made 28-of-41 shots from the field across 97 minutes of playing time, and his 19.0 efficiency rating per game sees him in third place efficiency-wise among the players who've played in all four games so far.
The best part about his dominance is that coach Joan Plaza gets to balance out the minutes with Tillman and Mfiondu Kabengele. One is an MVP of the season candidate, the other is capable of getting 30 points and 16 rebounds in a single game, which is what Kabengele did in a recent game against PAOK mateco in the Greek A1 League.
What's the one thing Justin would borrow from Mfiondu?
"His energy. He brings it every day, he's hyper energetic even for no reason. With that energy, you're gonna succeed," Tillman said.
Same question, different direction. What's the one thing he would borrow to Mfiondu?
"I have no idea, honestly (he laughs). I would just say the floater," Tillman offered.
Those two are already big figures, both figuratively and literally.
AEK put together a roster that includes the MVP Race leader Chasson Randle, guys with triple-digit NBA games under their belt such as Jordan McRae and Ben McLemore, and then guys who have been playing on a high European level for some time, like Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Dimitris Flionis.
There is no one leader. They have multiple leaders on this roster.
"We really do. We have a lot of experienced veterans, from the EuroLeague to the NBA, players who've been on a lot of different teams, and a lot of players of different ages," the November MVP explained
"I feel like we have a lot of different leaders on our team who can help everybody gain some knowledge around the court and help us succeed."
But keeping together guys with impressive careers, all breathing as one, can be a tough task.
That's where elite coaching comes into play, and with Joan Plaza, AEK BETSSON BC have at the helm a man whose body of work is respected all over the continent.
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"It's been pretty cool [working with him]. He's a very demanding coach but he sees the potential in every player, he sees the level you could reach and he holds you accountable for that, so you could reach your goals," the big man said.
"I just take it as a learning lesson every day in practice, many things he says, I know it's something that's going to help me get better, so I don't take anything personal. I just see it as a challenge," Tillman understands the occasional raised voice.
It's because he understands the same thing the coaching staff understands: AEK are 4-0, but they are in no way a completed work of art. There is still so much left to work on there, which is scary when you are just one of three unbeaten teams in the BCL, next to Bertram Derthona Tortona and JDA Bourgogne Dijon.
Tillman would point to AEK and a 3-1 team when asked about the contenders this season.
"We have another level that we could reach, to help us get further in this League. Another team that I would say is pretty talented and has a great team is [Unicaja] Malaga," he said.
The November MVP will receive his award in person ahead of AEK's upcoming home game against Banco di Sardegna Sassari.