Add on another chapter to the legend of Fred VanVleet, Rockford’s greatest basketball player.
VanVleet wasn’t supposed to be big enough to really make it big at 6-foot, but he always had a way of making his teammates bigger. He led a Rockford Auburn team with no starters taller than 6-foot to a third-place finish in the state Class 4A boys basketball tournament, the second-highest by any Rockford-area team in the last 65 years.
He never averaged more than 13.6 points in college, but led Wichita State to four NCAA tournaments, a Final Four and an NCAA-record 35-0 start one year. He went undrafted, but became a vital supporting player on Toronto’s 2019 NBA Championship team, finishing second in Finals MVP voting to Kawhi Leonard.
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And now, at least for one week, Rockford’s greatest basketball player may be the world’s greatest. VanVleet was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after leading the Raptors to a 4-0 record by averaging 30.3 points, 6.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals. He shot .467 (42-90) from the field, .453 (24-53) from three-point range and a perfect 13-for-13 at the free throw line.
VanVleet, in his sixth NBA season, is averaging career highs in scoring (22.0 points), assists (6.7) and rebounds (5.0). He also has a career high in effective field goal percentage (55.3), which factors in that 3-pointers score 50 percent more points than a two-point shot.
“What’s incredible too is that he is doing this and they are 4-0 and winning games,” said Rockford East coach Roy Sackmaster, who coached against VanVleet when he was at Auburn. “It is one thing to make it to the NBA as an undrafted player and then become a role player off the bench. Now he is a player they can build a franchise around. That starts with who he is as a person and his character. “
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Toronto has traded away or lost to free agency all-stars Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in recent years but is still 20-17 on the season and within six games of the first-place Chicago Bulls in the entire Eastern Conference.
“They are still a formidable team in the NBA,” Sackmaster said. “That to me is incredible. It’s been really fun to watch. And Fred continues to make his teammates better. That’s when you know you are really special.”
VanVleet’s big week included his first career triple double. He had 37 points — the most in a triple double in Toronto history — 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the Utah Jazz, who ware third in the Western Conference at 28-13. That included 24 points in the third quarter, one shy of the Raptors’ record for most points in a quarter. At one point, he scored 17 points in a row for the Raptors.
VanVleet also had 33 points against San Antonio, 32 against New Orleans and 19 against the Milwaukee Bucks. He is the 11th player in Toronto Raptors history to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Since returning from COVID-19 protocols, VanVleet has scored at least 30 points in five of six games — all six wins — and is shooting 47 percent.
“Nothing he does surprises me,” said Auburn’s Bryan Ott, VanVleet’s old high school coach. “Like every other place he’s been, he does exactly what has to be done for that team. When you look at Toronto right now and that lineup, Fred is a point guard but he has to score and he has become a very prolific and adept scorer.
“From my humble point of view, he’s an All-Star. i don’t know how you can leave him off. He’s really carrying that team.”
Matt Trowbridge: firstname.lastname@example.org; @matttrowbridge