Above all else, Fred VanVleet is a winner. VanVleet first garnered national attention as he led the Rockford, Illinois, based “Pryme Tyme” to win the 11th Grade Silver Division of the AAU Super Showcase in Orlando, Florida. “Pryme Tyme” didn’t garner high expectations from the competition of nationally renowned AAU programs; they did not have the height many thought was required in the post, and some of the other rosters boasted nationally ranked prospects in all positions. But VanVleet has never been afraid of being the underdog; the opponent that his “Pryme Tyme” team took down in the AAU championship game was home to the #1 point guard in the country – Yogi Ferrell. In the serendipitous world in which we live, the two matched up again last season in the NCAA Tournament when VanVleet’s Shockers played Ferrell’s Hoosiers. VanVleet again walked away with the win.
Fred VanVleet’s many strengths are showcased tremendously on this year’s Shocker squad. The team has and will continue to rely on Fred’s leadership and selflessness; in terms of stats-driven strengths, his most valuable skill is creating opportunities for his teammates. It is in these ways that VanVleet has evolved his game over the years. His basketball IQ is off the charts, his quick reaction time in reading the opposing defense is top-notch, and his work off of the pick-and-roll is nearly unrivaled in college basketball today. VanVleet has established a strong outside game which draws the double-team and exhibits one of the best combinations in college basketball of secure ball handling and his infamous ankle-breaking crossovers.
Among VanVleet’s improvements while at Wichita State, none stand out more than his ability to drive to the hoop. Since his freshman year, he has filled out physically and improved his agility, balance, and bounciness around the paint. He has weathered the knockdowns and endured the bruising of meeting the big-uglies in the paint and has come away stronger and more resilient with time. VanVleet frustrates interior defenses with his extremely effective euro-step, and his body-contorting acrobatics in mid-air. His wizard-like magic with the rock is stuff of hardwood legend. If he’s not feeling a kiss off the glass with a little English on the ball to spin it right in the basket, he will dish the ball off to the open teammate for the score. Fred’s court vision and multitude of passing styles make for the complete package in a floor General.
In Fred’s junior season, his shooting efficiency statistics (FG%, 3P%, FT%) dipped from his sophomore levels. In his sophomore year his percentages were .484 FG%, .418 3P%, and .830 FT%; his junior year percentages were .430 FG%, .357 3P%, and .796% FT%. A possible reason for that dip? I think it had to do with losing the offensive enigma that was Cleanthony Early, as well as Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby. The two big men down low silently laid the foundation for much of that team’s offensive success. With the loss of those seniors, and the only proven post player, Darius Carter, remaining, it was apparent that Fred would have to produce more points. VanVleet shot the ball 74 times more in his junior year than his sophomore, and shot 32 more free throws. He averaged 13.6 points per game, 2 points more than his sophomore year. His total assists were down by 10, due to fewer offensive weapons. The roles had changed, and Fred overcame and adapted to navigate his team to another 30 win season and a trip to his second Sweet 16 appearance.
In this year’s farewell tour to an already legendary Shocker, it’s safe to say we will see Fred adding to his win total and leading the Shockers to another NCAA Tournament birth. This year’s team should enable VanVleet to transition back to his efficiency levels as a sophomore with additional offensive weapons at his disposal. Sharp-shooter Conner Frankamp and reliable big-man Anton Grady are added to the mix. Now, sophomores Zach Brown, Shaq Morris, Rashard Kelly, and Rauno Nurger hope to increase their minutes, and senior seven-footer Bush Wamukota is sure to impress with his improvement over the off-season. There is also a stable full of new freshmen looking for the opportunity to make an immediate impact on the court. I look for Fred’s shooting percentages and free throw percentage to increase and predict he will set a career high in total assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Fred’s path to his senior year in college is inspirational, a tribute to hard-work, perseverance and overcoming obstacles. It would make a compelling film, and possibly will one day. Which raises this question; How will the final act of VanVleet’s college career unfold? If Fred has any say in it, I’m sure it’s the thing he’s been working towards for the previous three years – a National Championship.