From Undrafted Free Agent to Under the NBA Spotlight
For many NBA rookies, the road to the league comes through the draft, but for some, that is not always the case. Fred VanVleet, a senior out of Wichita State, was one of the many players who did not get to hear their name called on June 23. Despite not getting the call on draft night, turning down two teams interested of drafting him in the second round who offered him a two-year, $20K deal to play in the D-League, VanVleet secured a multi-year contract with the Toronto Raptors.
The journey to stay was not yet complete for the former Shocker guard. With 14-contracts already guaranteed on the Raptors roster and three point guards already signed on, VanVleet had to compete all of training camp for the final roster spot. On October 22, after the final cuts, VanVleet was finally able to say that he has earned an NBA shot, cracking the main squad.
As a 6’0” point guard from Rockford, Illinois, not many things were always guaranteed for Fred. Losing his father at an early age, VanVleet had to grind his way to create opportunities for himself. Being an All-State player in high school, Fred was recruited by mid-major basketball programs, eventually agreeing to play at Wichita State – and helping resurrect its basketball program. VanVleet finished his college career as the Wichita State career assists leader, becoming a two-time Missouri Valley Conference Man’s Player of the Year.
In the 2016 NCAA Tournament, VanVleet was able to take his Shockers team past Vanderbilt, and even upsetting the sixth-seeded Arizona Wildcats.
Now as a member of the Toronto Raptors franchise, VanVleet has split time between the main roster and the Raptor 905, but with his incredible work ethic and talent, this is only the beginning for Fred VanVleet.
BallnRoll: You had a very successful four-year career at Wichita State, in which you have experienced a lot of different things, including the NCAA tournament, how did the entire four years help your transition into the NBA?
VanVleet: Just glad I experienced it. I’ve been able to grow up and mature as a man and as a player, being able to develop my game throughout the four years, keep working and getting better. Just like I said – being mature, having the discipline and the work, and just being professional everyday.
BallnRoll: Is that something you would recommend – to stay four years in college? And is this is something you think you can only get out of college?
VanVleet: No, I can’t say I would recommend it. If you have a chance to leave early then you definitely should leave early if that’s your goal of playing in the NBA, if that’s your dream, but some guys in the past are different and everybody’s situation is different so it’s not the end of the world if you stay all four. It could be beneficial for some guys and for some guys it hurts. It’s the individual aspect of it and you got to know yourself and know what you want to get out of it. For me, it worked out so if some guys need to stay, that’s fine.
BallnRoll: With all of the talk around Siakam and Poeltl, you have become more of the quieter rookie. Being an undrafted signing, how does that motivate you to keep working hard and earn your spot on an NBA roster?
VanVleet: Just keep the chip on your shoulder. Obviously you have a lot to work for, being undrafted, do extra stuff to stay. Come early, stay late, those type of things. Like you said, I don’t have the attention, or the political backing obviously from teams that draft you and who push you that way, so I just work to get in here and put my foot in the door, and I’m here to stay.
BallnRoll: It must be very difficult splitting time between the 905 and the main squad. How do you continue being positive and understanding the process of what it takes?
VanVleet: You got to understand you have the best job in the world – you’re living the dream no matter what. Obviously no body’s goal and dream is to be in the D-League, but it’s a part of the process for young guys and rookies, and I’m trying to make the most of it and when I go, just trying to go down there and dominate. Just keep progressing as part of your progression as a player so when you come back, you’re ready to go.
BallnRoll: With Lowry on the sideline, you had your first big night in the NBA when you put up 10-points in 25-minutes against the Nets in a W. How did you feel getting that opportunity with a top-tier team in the East and contributing when you’re called upon?
VanVleet: You just have to stay ready, you never know what can happen. This league is very fluid and things can happen like that. For that situation, he was just resting, but other things can happen when you’re thrown in there and you just got to stay ready and it’s a testament to the work you put in every day just to prepared for when that moment comes.
BallnRoll: What was your biggest challenge being undrafted and who has helped you, from veterans to coaches, who has given you the most amount of support?
VanVleet: I don’t know, being undrafted and people not really knowing who you is, you just got to find a niche and kind of make your stamp.
I think throughout training camp just me playing hard and me competing, and playing well, I think I earned some respect that way and you know, we got a lot of great vets that talk to you here and there, give you pointers, things like that. I think over time, as I spend more time with them, they just kind of adopt me as one of their own when you make the team. It’s been a group effort.
BallnRoll: Being undrafted, do you feel like it might be a bit more positive that no one is watching you, a little less pressure on yourself?
VanVleet: Yeah, I guess you could look at it that way. That’s a pretty optimistic way to look at it. So kind of under the radar, that could work in your favour, but the flip-side of that is that if you were drafted, you have a lot of pressure on you, but you also have a lot of resources, freedom, and time to develop and go, people just give you that. Obviously they invest more into you, so they didn’t really invest that much from that standpoint, kind of low-risk, high-reward, but i think it’s working in my favour.