Fred VanVleet: The Rise And Rise Of The Undrafted Free Agent

Fred VanVleet: The Rise And Rise Of The Undrafted Free Agent

It is not easy to be an All Star in the NBA, it’s an honour reserved for a select few each season. Many, in addition, repeat year after year, which further reduces the options for the rest. Perhaps for this reason, the achievement of Frad VanVleet in 2022 is even greater, as the Raptors point guard has slipped among the stars becoming the fifth undrafted player to have received such an honor. From being undrafted to becoming an All Star, Fred VanVleet has come a long way. In this post, we will take a look at his story. Let’s get started.

Fred VanVleet: All You Need To Know

What happened to Fred VanVleet on the night of the NBA Draft?

Draft night is usually one of the most important nights for a basketball player. In it, a good part of their future is decided, since the franchises separate the wheat from the chaff, choosing the best young talents for their locker rooms and sending the rest to make a living in the development league or in leagues outside the United States. VanVleet ‘s path took a turn, precisely on the day he had marked as special on the calendar. After a promising career in college, after being extolled as one of the most promising youngsters in the country, he saw how his numbers were not enough to attract the attention of any franchise in the first round of the draft.

Major failure for the point guard, who had organized a party at a nightclub in his city with his friends and family that ended up being as cheerful as a funeral. With each round that passed without his name appearing, the silence grew more awkward in the room. Finally, after the draft, VanVleet himself took the floor. He said: “I have declined two offers to play in the D-League and have decided to bet on myself. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get drafted, sure, but my story doesn’t end there. This is just the beginning”.

His speech, full of self-confidence, was the beginning of a fight against everything in search of a place among the best. Not having been drafted is usually an indelible stain on the file, which puts franchises back, especially when it comes to offering a guaranteed contract. VanVleet managed to win over the Raptors, who agreed with him to make room for him for three games in the Las Vegas Summer League that summer. Performances that were the beginning of a solid career that has lasted seven seasons in which the point guard has become an icon of the franchise, with which he won the ring in 2019.

How did Fred VanVleet start his basketball career?

Fred VanVleet’s life is a story of improvement that began as a kid, when he refused to leave his usual high school to play in more powerful leagues. “If I’m good, I don’t need to join others to shine. I’ll do it with my boys”, he recognized then, convinced of being able to attract the attention of the D1 universities without leaving home. He achieved it with star numbers and those offers rained down on him, although he opted for the one from Wichita State, a basketball program, with tradition but had never won the national title. They did not do it either with VanVleet in its ranks, who after reaching the semifinals in his rookie year saw how in the rest of the seasons he fell far short of glory.

Perhaps that reduced his options in the draft, where despite having carried out notable previous training sessions with different franchises, none chose him among the 60 best NBA prospects during the Draft.

How did Fred VanVleet get on the Toronto Raptors?

His tenacity on the court, his defensive predisposition and success in the launch captivated the Raptors’ coaches, even though he had names as prominent as Kyle Lowry or Cory Joseph ahead of him. He didn’t care. His self-confidence earned him a key role in the 2019 Raptors triumph, after which he signed a four-year contract for 85 million dollars (an incredible milestone for an undrafted player).

His decision, the one that led him to decline an offer of $20,000 for two seasons in exchange for a place in the draft, could not have turned out better, because to his millionaire salary he has now added the honor of becoming the fifth undrafted All Star in the history of the NBA. The point guard joins Ben Wallace, Connie Hawkins, John Starks, and Brad Miller as the only ones who made it to the All Star Game despite being undrafted.

VanVleet went undrafted after training with Wichita State before the 2016-17 season, but he now has the largest contract in NBA history for an undrafted player, surpassing four seasons and 70.1 million Wesley Matthews received with the Dallas Mavericks in 2015.

After signing a two-year, $1.45 million deal with the Raptors, VanVleet struggled to find more and more playing time behind the duo of guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan.

But when DeRozan was traded to the San Antonio Spurs on a two-year deal for forward Kawhi Leonard, VanVleet filled the void left by the ex-franchise player.

He had his best run in the playoffs that season, when he excelled on 3-point shooting in the Eastern Conference finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.

While in the Finals against the Golden State Warriors, he shot 40 percent on 6.7 3-point attempts per game and helped the Raptors win the franchise’s first championship.

He averaged a career-high 17.6 points per game that season, which was also the highest by an undrafted player since Mike James had 20.3 points with Toronto in 2005-06.

He also averaged 6.6 assists during the season, got to the free throw line nearly four times a game, and was tied for third in the league in steals, averaging 1.9 per game.

How crucial is Fred VanVleet’s role with the Toronto Raptors?

The Toronto Raptors are one of the newest North American pro sports teams. Their basketball under GM Masai Ujiri has taken a real turn for the better. The team enjoyed such glory in the days of Vince Carter. When LeBron James was still the Beast in the East, the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics were the only real obstacle in his march to the NBA Finals. Their 34-15 record places them as the second team in their conference, just one victory behind the proud greens. Stars such as Kahi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have definitely led the way for the team. Valuable role players like Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas complete a very balanced team, but it is in the presence of their second unit on the floor that the Canadians tend to break up their games and lead most of their victories.

What is common among the Raptors’ bench mob?

Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, Poeltl, Siakam or Delon Wright make the difference. One thing unites them all: they have been part of the Raptors 905, the team affiliated with the franchise that is champion of the D-League, the Development League. There they have been forged before taking the big leap.

Fred VanVleet finally took a step forward in his career. At  23 years old, his figures in terms of minutes, points, assists and shooting percentage went up and he has become very noticeable when star point guard Kyle Lowry is on the bench. VanVleet averaged more than seven points and three assists per game and even managed to score 25 against the Los Angeles Lakers, his best performance ever. But VanVleet, who was not drafted and who has only played for Toronto since he got out of college, may well have had another fate. 

Where was Fred VanVleet born?

Fred VanVleet was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, which according to Forbes magazine is the third most miserable city in the United States. Poverty, high unemployment, and street gangs of criminals make Rockford an ideal city for crime, for the misfortunes resulting from the despair of those people who have no resources and live immersed in the deepest fear.

What happened to Fred VanVleet’s father?

When he was five years old and returning from his first years of school, VanVleet found that his father had been murdered. Two shots in the neck, the reason for a reckoning for the shenanigans that he handled, ended his life when his son was just a kid. Three years later, his mother, Susan, met Danforth, a veteran police officer with whom she fell deeply in love and who became  Fred VanVleet’s stepfather. And also in his worst nightmare (in a positive way).

How did Fred VanVleet’s stepfather help him train for basketball?

At 5:30 AM the alarm clock went off, with Fred VanVleet’s stepfather Danforth at the end of the hall yelling that it was time to get up. With no light yet on the streets, Fred would get in the car with his brother JD and they would quickly arrive at a field to train, usually with a heavy vest weighing more than 15 kilos to strengthen their physique and develop their skills. “We hit him a lot in training because on top of that he was the little one,” said VanVleet’s brother. For hours they played in the rain, in the snow, in an untimely cold. Later, he participated in police drills and did physical exercise in the facilities and circuits that the authorities had around the police station to train.

Fred VanVleet was only 10 years old, but his training seemed almost more like a Marine than a kid who only went to school and occasionally played basketball. He hated it. He worked and ran like a real soldier. He did things that kids of his age didn’t do. “It was very bad. I just wanted to be a kid. Possibly, those days he didn’t smile much, “he admits.

What kind of a place did Fred VanVleet grow up in?

“You’re not going to sit around and be lazy. You are not going to be anyone. Everybody can be anybody”, his stepfather yelled at him every day, who did not admit a complaint or a reply from the little owl. “Colleagues at the police station told me that he was crazy for treating him like that, but he couldn’t stop doing it, he had no other choice.” Because while they may seem cruel, Danforth’s motives were very different. He wanted his stepchildren, and also his biological son,  to get away from a city that only breathed crime.  By simple statistics, Fred VanVleet would have been more likely to be killed or end up in jail than to play in the NBA. “In Rockford there was nothing. We had no hopes or references. There are no role models here. None of my friends have parents who are doctors or businessmen. No one from here plays in the NBA or is a music star”, said the Raptors player.

“I have friends whose parents have three jobs and they don’t know if they will be able to make the next meal. When you live in poverty, only bad things happen,” he reiterated. Because VanVleet could have ended up as his father, or as his good friend Spider, 14 years old and teammate until eighth grade. Danforth was on duty the night  Spider was shot in the neck and bled out on the spot. It was he who assisted him and who told his stepson the news, who unfortunately had already seen more than one similar episode. The Wacos or the Vice Lords,  criminal gangs that infested the streets of the neighborhood, lurked on every corner while the kids dreamed of joining them.

Without metal detectors at the entrance of the institute, there was rarely a day that one of the teenagers did not show up with his gun at the High School, at lunchtime, in the halls or in the middle of class. “The normal thing is that the boys carry their pistol in the backpack,” he said. There were also those who were wearing bulletproof vests, for whatever might happen. One of them, a classmate of Fred’s himself, who decided to wear protection days after being shot in the leg, believed to be by chance. On another occasion, a man was stabbed to death on the same street as the institute, in full view of all the students who crowded the fence watching the guy slowly bleed to death.

There was another student who never came to class, but who waited with his Magnum outside, lying in wait and waiting for the right moment to steal food from those who dared to leave the campus for lunch. “There were drugs and prostitution. I have cousins ​​who were shot. Everything was happening around me. People get alarmed when I tell it. But he is alarmed by my naturalness to tell it.  For me, all that was normal”, admitted the Raptors star.

But his path in basketball was not going well with the pride of his game and the bad actions of his teammates as the cause. VanVleet thought he was superior to the rest just because he was infinitely better on the ball. “I was an idiot. He insulted them when they did badly”. His stepfather, again, derived military training in another sense. He let him know that his companions would never follow a despotic leader and prepared him to be the perfect armor to lead troops. He was the general who needed loyalty of his own.

How did Fred VanVleet keep himself away from the dangers of gang life?

VanVleet had a thousand and one temptations to join the evil path of life. But he didn’t want to, his family wouldn’t let him and his friends and colleagues, seeing what he could be, forbade him to be with bad company.

“I never went out to party, I could not leave the house later than 10 at night. If there was a movie that started late, my parents forbade me to go see it and I had to wait for the next day’s screening in the afternoon,” said VanVleet. “My mother told me that I was going to spend four boring years to have freedom for the rest of my life”.

In the neighborhood, moreover, everyone had already put a star on it. “They called me ‘The Chosen One’ between jokes”, said VanVleet. Everyone wanted him to go far and do something important, carry the Rockford name far.

How did Fred VanVleet get to college?

His parents couldn’t afford college, so the only way to get out was to play basketball and get a scholarship for it. When it was time to make the leap, only Kent State and North Illinois were half interested in him. Not convinced, he preferred to wait until he received a letter from Wichita State, where they wanted him as a starter. He committed without thinking and, although later better offers came to him, from better teams and with better aspirations, he was true to his word.

How was Fred VanVleet’s college career?

In his first year with the Shockers, he was a freshman player in an incredible year for a team that reached the Final Four and exceeded all expectations. At the end of the year, he played the decisive minutes and his was the winning basket against Gonzaga, the number one favorite for the title who were upset by Wichita State.

A year later, with VanVleet established as an undisputed star in his  Sophomore year,  the Shockers posted an incredible 34-0 run in the regular season, going undefeated before reaching the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, in the tournament, they could only reach the second round. Fred VanVleet ended his Wichita days by entering the history books. He is the player with the most games played (141), the most assists (637), and the most steals ( 225 ) in the history of the university. He was a three-time All American and two time Missouri State MVP. 

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