Raptors Profiles: How Fred VanVleet “bet on himself” to become an NBA Champion

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By working hard and “betting on himself,” Fred VanVleet has had a remarkable rise in the NBA during his five-year career. “Steady Freddy”, as many have come to know him, has taken advantage of every opportunity since joining the Raptors franchise in 2016 as an undrafted rookie.

While not hearing his name in the 2016 draft, VanVleet worked tirelessly after earning a two-year contract with Toronto, worth just over $700,000 a year. It didn’t take long for the 6″1, 200 pound guard to showcase his skill to the Raptors staff and coaches. With his defense, overall toughness and shooting skills, VanVleet displayed his talent and has since developed into one of Toronto’s core players, a pivotal piece of their 2019 championship.

“Steady Freddy” has improved in every season with Toronto after spending a majority of the 2016-17 season with the Raptors 905, winning a championship with them. VanVleet in his second season was nominated for sixth man of the year, playing in 76 games and averaging 8.6 points per night. That following season, VanVleet put the league on notice, increasing his point average (11.0) and providing a massive spark in the championship run.

VanVleet was a key factor in the 2-0 Eastern Conference Finals comeback against the Bucks and averaged 14 points per game in the NBA Finals. After a Shaun Livingston elbow in game 4, which led to seven stiches and a chipped tooth, VanVleet displayed his toughness, scoring 22 points and a team high 5 three pointers off the bench in the title winning game 6.

VanVleet had a phenomenal collegiate career, playing four years for the Wichita State Shockers. A two-time Missouri-Valley Conference player of the year and three-time AP honorable All-American mention, VanVleet was heralded as one of the best guards in the country in his junior and senior year.

He delivered success to the Shockers program as the backcourt of VanVleet and Ron Baker led Wichita to a surprising final four run in the 2013 NCAA “March Madness” tournament and an undefeated regular season the following year. After his four years with the program, VanVleet held the school record for games (141), assists (637) and steals (225), while incredibly, 30 NBA teams still passed on him.

VanVleet grew up in Rockford, Illinois, a city just outside of Chicago, and dealt with personal tragedy early in his life. At age 5, his father was killed in a drug deal, shattering his world and forcing VanVleet to rely on his step-father and mother. His step-father, Joe Danforth, would help him develop basketball skills and teach him important lessons in the absence of his father. Danforth would make it his priority to take VanVleet under his wing, waking him up at 5:30 in the morning to train and mentoring Freddy towards a successful path in his life.

“He turned out to be a blessing. If he had never come along, who knows what would’ve happened to me,” VanVleet told Bleacher Report’s Jason King of his step-father.

VanVleet has always been a family man, having two kids of his own and generating quite a buzz once his family arrived during the NBA playoff bubble last summer.

With his “bet on himself” mindset, VanVleet has developed into a consistently productive scorer and his hard work was rewarded this past fall, signing a four-year, $85 million extension. A sizeable upgrade from his rookie contract and a deal that also looks pretty good for Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster as of now.

Through a trying season where VanVleet has battled Covid-19, a suspension and lingering injuries, he is second on the team in points per game (19.5) and assists per game (6.1), while being one of the bigger all-star snubs this year.

Earlier this season, VanVleet caught fire against the Orlando Magic, surpassing DeMar DeRozan and scoring a Raptors franchise record 54 points, while hitting 11 three pointers. The performance also passed Moses Malone for most points by an undrafted player in an NBA game.

Through his five seasons with the franchise, VanVleet has remained determined and has turned into one of the team’s most critical players, while also having gained the liking of much of the fanbase. While several questions surround the Raptors and player movement this off-season, it is fairly safe to say that “Steady Freddy’s” place with Toronto is secure.

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