by Kevin Burton
Thanks God for Fred VanVleet.
The timing of his new contract with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors allows me to wrap up the previous era of Wichita State basketball on a sunny note.
On Saturday VanVleet signed a four-year $85 m8illion dollar deal to stay with Toronto. A handful of clubs had shown interest in him as a free agent. Now he will continue as a foundation of the Raptors franchise.
The whole Gregg Marshall abuse scandal, coming right before the new season was supposed to start, took most of the joy of Shocker basketball away, at least for me.
I used to see Wichita State as a small-conference underdog that punched way above its weight class, never got a break from the NCAA tournament selection committee and usually thrived anyway.
Even non-Shocker fans had fun figuring out just how many upsets they would rack up.
Then, beginning in early October, coach Gregg Marshall’s world unraveled as damning accounts surfaced of his physical and mental abuse of players and even athletic department staff.
Though he is now gone from the program, that stench still lingers. The administrators who enabled Marshall for years because of his on-court success and the money he brought in are still in place.
Wichita State’s cash cow now smells like manure. The powers that be at the school stepped in it. Now WSU looks like just another morals-impaired hoops factory.
But there was VanVleet to save the day.
As I watched college football Saturday, the crawl across the bottom of the screen said his contract is the biggest ever for a player who was not drafted.
And this is more than just hooray for former Shockers. It’s also about betting on yourself.
In 2016 I stayed up late hoping to see VanVleet and Ron Baker chosen in the NBA draft. Neither was selected.
Two NBA teams reportedly told VanVleet they would draft him in the second round if he would agree to play two years in the NBA development league at $20,000 a year.
VanVleet said no. He bet on himself. That’s his motto.
Within a day or so, Toronto had reached out to VanVleet, the New York Knicks to Baker.
VanVleet was far from an overnight success. But by his third year he had developed enough to be an integral part of Toronto’s NBA championship in 2019.
In the clinching game six, VanVleet scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter. One of his three fourth-quarter three-pointers was the basket that put Toronto up for good.
VanVleet was a 5’11” guard at Wichita State. Everything I see about him as a Raptor lists him at 6 feet tall, except one article I saw this week that said he is 6’1”. At first I thought maybe he was standing on his press clippings to get the extra height.
Now I think he’s standing on his wallet.
Anyway, he’s “too small” and always has been. He got little attention from big-name colleges because of his size. That’s why Wichita State was able to get him.
After being a part of nine NCAA tournament wins at Wichita State, the basketball world still doubted him.
But he knew who he was and he bet on himself. You and I can’t play hoops like VanVleet, but we can bet on ourselves.
Fill in your own blanks. I am visually impaired. That has been the main reason people have counted me out over the years. VanVleet is “too small,” what about you? Is there something about you that people seize on to “prove” you won’t make it?
Small-minded people do that. They look for reasons to write you off.
I’m not talking about being blindly optimistic or being entitled here. I’m talking about knowing who you are, putting in the work and not taking no for an answer.
Critics will talk. That’s what they do best. What do you do best? Whatever it is, get after it. Bet on yourself.