By All-Star hype, I'm still talking about France where he's been playing for a few months now. Instead of moping around, waiting to officially become an NBA rookie, Justin Harper has thrown himself into the European fires and improved his game in all its facets. It's been a long time since I posted an update on his progress, but the young Richmond product is really coming along at Strasbourg.
I was a bit worried after Justin's performance against Le Havre. Harper at that point was getting almost zero free throw attempts. 4-of-10 shooting (2-for-5 from downtown) isn't bad in 30 minutes. Neither were the 5 rebounds. But I was having my doubts on whether or not coach Vincent Collet would feed the 22-year-old more touches. One can't complain though if you're winning, which is what Strasbourg did for that home match. Here's the postmatch presser. Also, one postgame article as well as a second piece.
Then it happened, against 3rd division side Charleville-Mezieres. The beginning of French cup action marked the true starting point of the Richmond graduate making a name for himself in France. In 27 minutes, Justin posted 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting and 7 rebounds Both statistics were team highs, and the driving force necessary to prevail on the road while other teammates struggled to provide assistance. Strasbourg now play their Round of 32 match on January 10th against second division Chalons-Reims. I'd imagine that Collet's goal is to reach the Quarterfinals in April.
The Pro A road trip to Orleans wasn't a fun one, losing 73-66. Strasbourg won the physical battle, but too many turnovers and few free throws were SIG's downfall. Mental lapses and defensive breakdowns are what SIG still haven't been able to avoid going into early November. Great teams know how to finish 4th quarters strong, and lack of chemistry will assist in preventing that. Harper again couldn't get to the free throw line, and showed defensive consistencies of his own. 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting (2-of-6 from downtown) and another 5 rebounds in a decreased 22 minutes of play is more than respectable. Coach Collet clearly wanted to rest his 6'9" forward after exerting himself plenty just a few days previously in the cup match. Collet wasn't shy to show his great disdain towards his team that really should have won at Orleans. Another away match showed a similar losing result. An 80-70 defeat to Elan Chalon. 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting (3-for-5 on 3s) and 5 rebounds in 27 minutes brought consistency in which others could not.
Then came 2 straight at home, starting with Roanne. A 93-80 beautiful showing. Coach Collet stated that Harper played by far his best match in a Strasbourg jersey. Justin was selected in the top 5 of foreigners in the league for the first time this season. Other media certainly agreed. 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting (2-for-4 from downtown) and 7 rebounds will definitely make any tactician happy with a young player. I'm definitely happy to see from free throws out of the kid (4-of-5). "We really played as a team", said Collet in the postgame. The Magic rookie played all but 2 minutes of the contest. Highlights are here, and the Richmond product was certainly very active. Magic fans, you may recognize the not so familiar face of Andre Barrett who plays for Roanne. Justin also expressed his NBA Lockout concerns, basically saying all the right things. Then there was this Collet interview where he calls Justin 'soft' and not ready for the NBA. Then again, coach could be doing his all to keep Harper in France for the remainder of the season even if the NBA gets back in session. Nice try, Vincent. You don't give a guy all of these minutes, win games, and still choose to contradict yourself with these types of statements. Justin's keeping himself in fantastic shape, learning to bang around, as well as improving his jumper. Harper could very well be beastly in Orlando pinstripes.
November 19th finally saw SIG earn their first road victory against Poitiers. The 78-79 win was hard fought to the final whistle. The 32nd overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft posted 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting (4-of-6 from long range) and 6 rebounds. Justin was by far Strasbourg's best player. Here are the game highlights that include Justin Harper's super clutch 4-point play in the final 2 minutes of the contest. The team is gelling more and more each week, and those 4th quarter meltdowns are almost a thing of the past. What Strasbourg lacks in experience replace with pure guts. Talent no matter how young is still talent.
Harper's French Pro A season averages are continuously on the rise. He currently stands at 13.6 points per game, 47.3 FG%, 42.4 3-PT%, and 6.2 rebounds per contest. There are rumors that Justin may get voted into the league's All-Star Game as well which would be very impressive. Strasbourg are 3-0 at home, and their first road win of the season against Poitiers will add to their courage necessary to knock off a behemoth next. For the 2nd consecutive week, Harper was picked among the top 5 foreigners league wide.
Here's where you can vote for Justin Harper to be selected to play in the French Pro A All-Star Game. It's French players versus foreigners, so obviously Justin is in the foreigner side.
We get to see an exciting showdown on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. EST. This game will be streamed for sure, as SIG will have their hands full against ASVEL. Yes, that's Tony Parker's team. Ronny Turiaf and Hilton Armstrong are also on the squad, with Boris Diaw possibly being a future edition (because his fat ass couldn't handle the 'B' division). Yes, it's a battle of the best French player in the world, (Parker) against the French national team coach (Collet). ASVEL see this road test as a huge deal, and bring some young Americans of their own to the table. Otherwise, Tony Parker wouldn't have sat out his squad's Eurocup match against Sofia. ASVEL are only 3-4 as they have only had legitimate NBA assistance for a few weeks now. SIG sit at 4-3 and are looking to rapidly mature into a contender for a top table finish. They went from two straight losses to their current 2-game win streak. We'll find out if Strasbourg can create a sizable win streak. The home fans should help.
Special thanks as always to Frank Tellier for continuously providing me with countless updates, statistics, articles, and multimedia of Justin Harper and the rest of Strasbourg. He's been going on some of SIG's road trips as well. A very dedicated fan. Tellier says that they could sell out a stadium that's double the size of SIG's current 6,100 facility for this ASVEL match. So the hype is enormous for this contest.