VanVleet Continuing To Bet On Himself With Raptors

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com
Fred VanVleet has spent two years telling anyone who would listen that the plan was simple: Bet on yourself. On Friday afternoon, the Toronto Raptors showed that they, too, are betting on VanVleet when the team announced it had signed the point guard to a multi-year contract.

“We all know Fred’s personal motto is ‘Bet on Yourself.’ We know that Fred is no gamble – he’s hardworking, dedicated, and smart, and has been fantastic for us,” Raptors President Masai Ujiri said. “We’re thrilled he’ll be a big part of the Toronto Raptors for seasons to come.”

The decision to return to Toronto was an easy one for VanVleet. Thought the team’s initial attempt to reach out to him went unanswered, he had a solid excuse.

“They called me at 12:01, Masai called me, actually I didn't answer,” VanVleet said. “I was running to Walgreens for the baby.

“Without getting in trouble we both stated throughout the offseason how much I wanted to come back, how much they wanted me back so, from my hand, it was a super easy decision.”

Though VanVleet’s motto was simple, this doesn’t mean it was easy. After going undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft, VanVleet signed with the Raptors and spent his first NBA season shuffling between Toronto and Mississauga, splitting his time with the Raptors and Toronto’s G-League team, Raptors 905. With a tireless work ethic and single-minded focus, VanVleet earned a spot in Toronto’s rotation heading into his second season. Continuing to bet on himself, he surprised everyone but himself this past season, becoming a finalist for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award, leading Toronto's Bench Mob reserve lineup.

Coaches and front office staff have raved about how VanVleet has handled himself since his first day in Toronto. When Raptors general manager Bobby Webster talked about the process in re-signing him, he said there were two things that stood out about VanVleet.

“Going though this process, two things that kept coming up to us was his absolute desire to win and his ability to continually improve himself,” Webster said. “That comes from within and is something that makes him really special.

The location for Friday's press conference was MLSE LaunchPad, a “living lab” where youth can use sport to recognize and reach their potential.

“Off the court, [Fred] has outstanding character and he has an unending dedication to where he comes from,” Webster said. “I think that’s why it’s so cool that he’s able to do this in front of a bunch of kids that probably look up to him and hopefully can embody the work he’s done.”

Throughout the season, VanVleet spent time visiting and working with youth at LaunchPad. Some of those youth were in attendance for Friday’s announcement.

“Thanks to the LaunchPad for being part of this with me for the last year,” VanVleet said. “Obviously I’m really embedded in my community back home, but Toronto is my second home, so I would like to get both feet down here and I’m looking forward to being partners with the LaunchPad again.”

Also on hand for the announcement, was VanVleet’s family, sitting front row. After thanking the organization and management, VanVleet thanked his family, before saying he wouldn’t talk too much about them or he would “be up here [on stage] crying.”

Now that VanVleet has free agency out of the way, he says his focus has shifted to getting better for next season. The usually all-business VanVleet acknowledged that he was nervous on Friday morning as he prepared for the press conference. After spending so much of the past two years working for this moment, Friday provided an opportunity to reflect on all that has happened on his basketball journey.

“The way it happened, the way I had to get into the league, the way I worked, I kind of earned every penny of it,” VanVleet said about earning his place in the league. “It’s a special moment for me. I’m extremely grateful, humble. I’m trying to let it soak all in.”