Robert Vaden Comes Full Circle

by Jared Hay

July 9, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS – Three high schools, two Division-I universities, multiple NBA/NBADL trades, two professional stints in Europe and now he is back home.

Indiana basketball fans know Robert Vaden well, or at least they did.

The last time they might have seen him play was in 2006 as a sophomore at Indiana University. Some fans might recall his second to last game as a Hoosier, when he beat San Diego State with a game winning three-pointer in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

He has made a few stops since and plans to show that his game has matured beyond being just the shooting threat he was known for.

“I slimmed down, I was chubby my sophomore year,” said Vaden, who at the age of 27 is the senior member of this Pacers summer squad. “I think I can play a little better defense, I am still the same though. I know the game and I know how to play, that is something I learned here in Indiana.”

After spending his freshman and sophomore years at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Vaden won a State Championship with Pike as a junior in 2003.

That Pike team showcased some of the best talent in the state, with the 2003 Mr. Basketball Justin Cage and NBA free-agent Courtney Lee. As reported by Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star, Lee is currently on the Pacers shortlist as a potential summer signing and Vaden’s eyes lit up at the chance to reunite with his friend.

“We all compete,” he said. “In the summertime we were out there in the same area. We played against each other probably harder than we played in regular games in high school. It would be amazing to play with him again.”

As a junior, Vaden was considered a front-runner for the 2004 Mr. Basketball award, until he transferred to Bridgton Academy in Maine for his senior season.

He came back an Indiana Hoosier and proved to be an instant offensive threat, starting every game his two years there, while averaging 10.5 and 13.5 points.

When head coach Mike Davis resigned after the 2006 season, Vaden followed Davis to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. After an NCAA mandated year off, he thrived again offensively, averaging 21 points as a junior.

After a successful senior year at UAB, he was drafted 54th in 2009 by the Charlotte Bobcats. He was immediately traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had already selected James Harden with the third overall pick.

Even though Vaden failed to earn a professional contract with the Thunder, Pacers Assistant Coach Dan Burke took notice of his play with them in the summer league.

“I remember him in the summer league a couple years ago,” Burke said. “He really was playing well for Oklahoma City. I am hoping he hits every shot for us like I saw him do two years ago.”

Vaden signed a professional contract at the end of that summer with Aget Imola in Italy. From there, he spent another summer with Oklahoma City. He has starred for the Thunder’s NBADL team, the Tulsa 66ers, and spent three months in Slovakia with BK SPU Nitra during the lockout.

If all his different stops have taught him anything, it has been that he just likes to play ball.

“I think what I learned is how much I love the game,” the well-traveled veteran said. “I have been in so many places and so many different environments, the only thing that has been constant is basketball and how much I love it.”

Burke has noticed the passion in Vaden.

"He is showing these young guys how to practice," Burke said. "He is first in line most of the time in drills and he conducts himself in a professional manner in every way I can think of."

Indianapolis is obviously an environment that Vaden is comfortable playing in, but more specifically is his history at Bankers Life, where he won a state championship with Pike.

His chance to make it back to that court now is through Orlando. Vaden will have an opportunity to continue to impress the already surprised Pacers coaching staff.

Vaden might have caught Burke’s attention a couple years ago with his scoring, but now he is learning that there is more to the guard than previously thought.

“I am surprised at how well he does play defense, not that I doubted him, I just didn’t know he could do that,” Burke said. “I have a feeling he will be on the better perimeter guys this week.”

Vaden understands as much as anyone that having a limited game won’t open doors for him in the NBA.

“Defense, that is one of the things that will separate me from most shooters,” he said. “That is one thing I know a lot of people want to see me do and I have been trying to focus on that.“

Vaden will have at least five games to show his polished game to Hoosier fans and to the Pacers coaching staff to bring his basketball journey full circle back to Indianapolis.

For now, Vaden feels a special sense of pride wearing the Pacers blue and gold.

“It is very exciting,” he said. “It brings back a sense of pride being able to wear the Pacers uniform after watching greats like Reggie Miller, Rik Smits and Dale Davis.”