VanVleet a rising star in NBA


QUEBEC CITY — Measuring the distance Fred VanVleet has come in three short years may be the closest thing to impossible.

Three years ago in June, VanVleet was an undrafted signee trying to scratch out minutes on a Raptors’ team that was just coming into its own.

Three years later, he’s the father of two and an NBA champion.

The surprise is no one has turned his story into a movie yet.

Now heading into the fourth year of his NBA career, one few outside of his inner circle gave him a chance of having, VanVleet is not just an NBA champion but a guy who played an integral role in bringing that championship north of the border.

In the series clinching Game 6 victory, VanVleet had 22 points matching Kawhi Leonard in scoring and limited Steph Curry to 21 points and just 3-of-11 shooting from distance to ensure Toronto’s first NBA Finals appearance ended in a celebration.

Some 31/2 months and more than a few celebrations later, VanVleet’s NBA status has altered.

“Coming in here as an undrafted guy trying to make the team four years ago, I would think I’m moving up in a little in terms of that and my value and what I bring to the table but that honestly started Day 1. From my first day being here, just keep climbing, I’m a very ambitious guy and work my butt off to continue to grow and better each day.

“Hopefully there’s new levels for me to keep reaching, it’s not gonna all happen at once but I think the future is bright,” VanVleet said.

Certainly around the league, VanVleet is noticing a difference in how he is perceived.

“I think the respect I’ve been getting from my peers and from opposing teams and franchises and GMs around the league over the last few years has grown,” he said. “ I think that people are starting to see it a little bit. But it’ll always been the same, I’ll never be a darling so to speak, not sure I really want that, either. I like to go out there and put everything on the line every time I lace ‘em up and that’s something that gives me a competitive advantage every time.”

VanVleet is in the final year of his contract as is starting point guard Kyle Lowry. How all that shakes out remains to be seen.

But for now the decision that looms is whether VanVleet begins the year as a starter or continues to come off the bench as he did most of last season, when he had a total of 28 starts.

VanVleet could start alongside Lowry in an all point-guard backcourt or the starting role could go to Norm Powell. With head coach Nick Nurse’s penchant for fluid lineups it probably matters very little but there’s still the cache, not to mention, value that being a starter in the NBA brings.

“Uhh, I wouldn’t say it’s the end all, be all,” VanVleet said of his desire to start. “I’ve been vocal in saying that it’s something I would like to do in my career. If I end up being a bench player my whole career then so be it, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m reaching for the stars, I don’t put limits on myself, I think the world of myself, and I put the work in to think the world of myself. So, it’ll happen, and whenever it happens I’ll be ready for it. Like I said before, I’m not going to hurt our team with my own ambition in trying to out-do people and belittle my teammates, so if they want me to start, I’ll start, and if they don’t then I’ll be the best bench player I can be.”

It’s that kind of attitude that has made VanVleet one of the most popular players in the Raptors’ locker room.


Brittni Donaldson will still crunch some numbers and dive in to the analytics of the game but the move from the office to the bench is a very welcome one for the 26-year-old former player.

“I think once I started to get my feet wet a little bit, that ex-player in me came out,” the former Northern Iowa standout said. “Being more hands-on and around the guys and around the coach and talking strategy, was really really in my wheelhouse. I started to notice that the more I was on the court.”

Donaldson became the 10th woman to earn a spot on an NBA coaching staff this past summer. That number has since grown to 11 and the message that sends is not lost on Donaldson.

“The league’s definitely evolving,” Donaldson said. “It’s an exciting time for people like me. I’d say yeah, we’re breaking ground, but not just with gender and age. If you look around our organization, you have Masai (Ujiri), who’s the first African-raised GM, you have Bobby (Webster), who’s probably the youngest GM in the league, Teresa (Resch, vice-president of basketball operations and player development), who’s the highest-ranking executive as a female in the NBA. A lot of organizations talk diversity and inclusion and broader thinking, but the Raptors actually do that.”


Those belts the team has been handing out primarily for standout defensive performances during practice the past year or so has gone to another level. Previously the belts were the dollar-store-variety copies but word apparently got out and the team is now handing out the next best thing to the real belts.

“We have two really nice ones now that the WWE sent us, one after we won it with a championship thing on it so it adds to the collection,” Nurse said. Winners on the opening day of camp were Norm Powell and Oshae Brissett. Day two winners were Fred VanVleet for leading the team in deflections during practice and a second one to Serge Ibaka that Nurse was claiming was actually a world record. “It’s this contest we have where guys are flying out contesting three-point shots and Serge on eight attempts made all eight,” Nurse said. “That’s never been done before.”