On the night in 2016 that Fred VanVleet wasn’t picked in the NBA Draft, he was his typically composed self.
He took a microphone, stood in front of a room packed with family and friends and broke the news. He’d gotten a few offers to train in the D-League, he told the crowd, but “I turned those down. I bet on myself.”
“My story (doesn’t) end here. It’s just the beginning,” VanVleet said. “It wouldn’t really make sense for my story if I did get picked. I’ve been against the odds my whole life and it’s not going to stop now.”
He played on the Raptors summer league roster, then eventually led their D-League team to a championship. He worked his way into playing more minutes for Toronto, was a finalist for the 2018 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, then signed a multiyear contract with the team.
This season, the 6’0” point guard was key to Toronto’s first NBA Championship, holding Steph Curry to the lowest number of points per 100 possessions of any defender in the NBA.
He notched a playoff career-high 22 points in Game 6, including five three-pointers and a final dagger that put the Raptors ahead for good. He certainly deserved the love from the many Canadians who lined Toronto’s streets in celebration.
So… What’s in VanVleet’s head when he steps on the floor?
- I try to be as super-aggressive as I can
- I trust the work I’ve put in
- I believe that I’m the best guy out on the court all the time
- I play every game like it’s my last
“I just try to be a steady hand, bring some defensive energy, make winning plays and get guys shots,” says VanVleet, who hails from Rockford, Illinois. “And when the opportunity presents itself, I go out there and use my talent to score a little bit and contribute to winning as best I can.”
For a guy who starred at Wichita State then went undrafted, it’s been a wild ride. But neither Fred nor his brother/trainer, J.D. Danforth, thought it would turn out any differently.