PORIRUA, New Zealand – The 2018-19 men's basketball season at Whitworth University hasn't even begun, but one Pirate veteran has already won a national title.
Junior forward Sam Lees (Christchurch) led his Waitaha Canterbury club team to New Zealand's U23 national championship at the Te Rauparaha Arena in Porirua over the week of August 8-11.
Lees was named the tournament's MVP after he scored 25 points in the championship game, a 99-80 victory over Auckland.
Over the course of four games, Lees averaged 24.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 3.2 assists. In addition, he had a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio and made 60% of his shots from the field.
Lees scored 26 points in a second round win over Waikato Country. He then totaled 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists in a semifinal victory over Taranaki.
"It was great to be back home and playing with some guys I have played with for many years," Lees said. "Going through the many age group tournaments in New Zealand, I have come close to winning a national title several times but had never won one. Finally winning it was an amazing feeling. And to win it with a great group of selfless guys was sweet."
Lees will rejoin a Whitworth team that finished 24-4 and was ranked as high as 2nd in the D3hoops.com poll last season. Lees is one of 14 letter winners, including all five starters, who will return for the Pirates in 2018-19.