NORMAL — Paris Lee won two awards from the Missouri Valley Conference on Tuesday, which was probably a good thing.
He can keep one and give the other to his mother, Kimala Franklin. She certainly deserves it.
Lee joined a select company when Illinois State's senior guard captured the MVC Larry Bird Player of the Year award as well as the MVC Defensive Player of the Year award, the league office announced.
Darren Brooks of Southern Illinois (2004, 2005), Nate Green of Indiana State (2000) and Ashraf Amaya of SIU (1992) are the only previous MVC players to win both awards. The league began selecting a Defensive Player of the Year in 1989.
“I'm blessed to be able to win both awards,” said Lee. “Defensive Player of the Year was definitely a goal of mine, but being Player of the Year wasn't. I was just trying to be on the first team. It's so unreal. I wasn't expecting to win it.”
Lee didn't seem headed down this path last season. ISU coach Dan Muller benched Lee for all but three minutes in a game against Tennessee State in December before the players headed home for a holiday break.
That's when Lee and his mother sat down and watched some of the Redbirds’ recent games against ones earlier that season.
“My mom said, ‘See how hungry you are during these games and see how you are laid back in these games?’” said Lee. “She said, ‘I honestly see why he (Muller) pulled that on you. You shouldn't be pointing fingers at him, but look in the mirror and do a reality check.’
“For my mom to say that, because she's my everything, I really took it in that she's probably right.”
Muller said it wasn't Lee's play that earned him a spot on the bench. Instead, it was his “buy-in and attitude.”
“I credit his mother 100 percent for him handling that the right way,” said Muller. “When he went home for Christmas, I spent a lot of time on the phone with his mom and just a little with him. Credit his mom, Kim, for making sure he came back with the right attitude. Since then he's been as coachable as you could be.”
Teammate MiKyle McIntosh flew to Chicago after the break and rode back to campus with Lee.
“He seemed really focused and ready to get back out there,” said McIntosh. “He said I'm not going to worry about anything that goes on. I'm just going to try and play as hard as I can and help the team in any way I can.”
Lee was named honorable mention to the all-Valley team last year and turned it up another notch this season in leading the Redbirds (25-5) to a 17-1 league mark and a share of their first Valley regular-season title since 1998.
The 6-foot Lee leads the Valley in assists (5.1 per game) and steals (2.0) while averaging 13.0 points and 3.8 rebounds. He became ISU's all-time steals leader this season and ranks fifth in all-time assists.
“Clearly he was more of a threat offensively, but it's just his overall presence,” said Muller. “He impacts the game in every way possible.”
Lee's fellow senior teammates felt him being named the league's most valuable player was a slam dunk.
“Paris is the heart and soul of this program,” said Tony Wills.
“He gives energy on the court and is a coach out there even when coach is not calling plays on the sidelines,” said Deontae Hawkins. “He deserves it. If anyone else would have got it, it would have hurt my heart. This is the guy. This is the man.”
Lee became the third ISU player to earn the Larry Bird Trophy, joining Tarise Bryson (2001) and Rico Hill (1998). Previous Redbirds to win the Defensive Player of the Year were Dinma Odiakosa (2010), Muller (1996, 1997) and Randy Blair (1990).
In voting for Player of the Year, Lee received 33 of 45 first-place votes and 110 total points to easily outdistance the Wichita State duo of Markis McDuffie (34 points) and Landry Shamet (30). Voting was done by coaches, sports information directors and a media panel (voters could not vote for their own players or players they cover).
Lee believes his biggest impact this season has come as a leader.
“I try to get everyone going, staying cool, and my teammates not seeing me get rattled was a big thing,” he said. “Once they see their point guard cool and collected, that kind of calms everybody else down.”
Undoubtedly, that was a lesson he learned at home.