Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet’s long journey to success

Toronto Raptors - Fred VanVleet (Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Fred VanVleet (Photo by Jack Arent/NBAE via Getty Images) /

We all know Fred VanVleet as the undrafted guard who played a pivotal role in the Toronto Raptors dream run to the NBA Championship, but his journey is much more than that.

Truth is Fred VanVleet’s journey did not start on Draft Night in 2016, it didn’t start when he first arrived at Wichita State, and it certainly didn’t start when he was signed by the Toronto Raptors.

Fred VanVleet’s journey started during his childhood, growing up in Rockford, Illinois. At the young age of five, VanVleet’s father, Fred Manning, was shot to death in a drug deal. Imagine being 5-year-olds, hearing this news. Fred needed someone to lift him back up and show him the path to success. That someone ended up being Fred’s stepfather.

A veteran police officer, Joe Danforth worked VanVleet to the ground, instilling that incredible work ethic that Raptors fans love so much. Danforth pushed Fred to new limits through his insane workouts. At 10 years old, VanVleet would be woken up regularly by Danforth at 4 am to run stairs or play basketball for hours. Although he hated these workouts, what VanVleet didn’t know then, was that he was building his most valuable asset, his hard-working mentality.

Struggling through all those workouts paid off for VanVleet as he dominated for his High School basketball team, breaking records while leading the team to a third-place finish in the state. However, even with all of that success, Fred was grossly overlooked. He got no offers from D-1 teams and eventually committed to Wichita State.

Enrolling in Wichita State proved to be a great move for Fred as he stayed all four years with the school and was a key contributor to the team’s undefeated 31-0 season during his sophomore year. VanVleet was a Witchita State legend and is even the school’s career leader in steals and assists.

With all the success he achieved, there was still a steep hill to climb. Fred declared for the 2016 NBA Draft in the hopes that a team would overlook his size and focus instead on his impressive skill set and work ethic. This, unfortunately, did not happen. VanVleet ended up going undrafted and had to break the news to his family and friends. Yet another roadblock on his journey.

He then found an opportunity with the Toronto Raptors. Their scouts clearly saw something in VanVleet and gave him a chance to prove himself and develop in the G-League playing for the Toronto Raptors 905. He didn’t disappoint. He went on to average 22 points and 11.5 assists in the G-League Finals and captured the championship alongside Pascal Siakam, who was named Finals MVP.

That great showing earned VanVleet a chance to play for a rotation spot on a deep Raptors squad that already had Kyle Lowry and Delon Wright playing his position. He continued to impress and eventually earned himself a regular spot in the rotation.

Fast forward to June 13th, 2019 and Fred VanVleet would play a critical role for the Toronto Raptors as they clinch the NBA Championship. His play in the Finals even earned him a vote for Finals MVP.

After being passed over by almost every college and literally every NBA team, VanVleet persevered using his tough attitude and strong work ethic. Skills he developed as a child from his step-dad.

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His journey is not yet complete. There are sure to be plenty more hurdles along the way for VanVleet, but his current present and future is certainly looking bright.