Seltzer's Notebook: Blossomgame, Shepard, VanVleet

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

What’s in a Name, Blossomgame?
Among those prospects aspiring to break into the NBA this season, perhaps no one has a more apropos last name for this current stage of his life than a 6’7” tall, 215 pound forward from Clemson.

“I have no idea where it comes from, but I get a lot of questions about it,” Jaron Blossomgame said of his surname following the Sixers’ six-player pre-draft workout Friday at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“I think it’s very simple, though. If you look at it, it’s just ‘blossom’ and ‘game,’ but people always mess it up.”

The Alpharetta, Georgia native has certainly seen his game evolve at the college level over the last three years.  He ranked third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring as a junior, posting 18.7 points per game, and was sixth in rebounding, grabbing 8.2 boards per outing.  

Named the ACC’s Most Improved Player this past March, Blossomgame likens his style of play to that of San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard, the back-to-back NBA Defensive Player of the Year. 

“I want to show I’m versatile,” said Blossomgame.  “I can guard, two’s, three’s, four’s, my ability to shoot the ball and make plays off the dribble.”

Friday’s session with the Sixers was Blossomgame’s fifth pre-draft workout.  He said he has two more to go, with the Spurs and Phoenix Suns.

“My body feels fine,” he said.   “I’ve been doing a good job taking care of it.  It’s kind of tough mentally trying to manage everything, going through different time zones, trying to get enough sleep, and stay ready for these workouts.”

Blossomgame will have until the May 25th deadline to determine whether to keep his name in the draft pool, or return to Clemson for his senior season.  

Shepard Shares Likens Game to Leonard, for Good Reason
Whether at the NBA Draft Combine, or the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where the Sixers formally began holding pre-draft workouts this past week, many combo forward prospects have cited a specific skill as the one they strive to showcase to teams, and a particular player as the one they aim to emulate in the pros.

The skill in question is two-way “versatility,” and the player is Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs’ All-Star.

Winston Shepard falls into this category.  However, unlike many of his peer NBA hopefuls who claim to be versatile and admirers of Leonard, Shepard actually has a direct connection to Leonard, who has emerged as a breakout performer over the last three years.  

Shepard and Leonard both played collegiately for San Diego State.  Shepard’s freshman season was in 2012-2013, two seasons after Leonard left following his sophomore campaign.  Per Shepard, the two have developed a line of communication.

“I’ve spoken to him a handful of times,” said the All-Mountain West Conference Second-Team selection.  “I’ve worked out with him a couple of times.  I definitely try to pattern my game after him, and more importantly, I try to pattern my work ethic.  He’s a very hard worker.  You can see where he’s taken his game to.  If I can do that, then I think I’ll be fine.”

Shepard produced 11.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 28.8 minutes per game as a senior.  He played especially well in the final month of the Aztecs’ season, helping lead the club to an appearance in the NIT final.  In SDSU’s win over IPFW in the opening round of the tournament, he generated a 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists.  The triple-double was a feat that not even Leonard accomplished in his two years with the program.

“That’s what I’ve been doing my entire career, even back to high school I led [Findlay Prep] in triple-doubles,” Shepard said.   “Definitely just wanted to show that ability.  I think that’s my greatest selling point, that I can do a multitude of different things well.  I just wanted to show that.”

Just like the former Aztec Leonard has done to an elite extreme in the NBA.   

VanVleet Takes Pride in College Achievements
Fred VanVleet had a pretty good four-year run under Gregg Marshall at Wichita State.  As a rookie, the 6’0” tall, 195 pound point guard appeared in all of the Shockers’ 39 games during their run to the Final Four, where they lost to eventual champion Louisville.  Assuming a starting role in his sophomore campaign, VanVleet helped Wichita State climb as high as the second spot in the Associated Press national poll, and was tabbed Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year.

“You could thank Cleanthony Early for that,” said VanVleet, referring to his former teammate and forward who’s appeared in 56 outings for the New York Knicks the past two years.  “He made me look pretty good, him and [Wichita State shooting guard] Ron Baker.  I got that award based off of those guys making me look pretty good.”

The Shockers achieved top-10 status again in both VanVleet’s junior and senior years.  He racked up his second MVC Player of the Year honor this spring, after averaging 12.2 points, 5.5 assists, and 1.8 steals per game.

“To win [the award] again as a senior, it’s pretty special as well,” VanVleet said following Friday’s workout for the Sixers.   “Our conference doesn’t get a lot of respect from the outside media.  It was pretty special to get those awards.”

In addition to making four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with VanVleet running the show, the Shockers have clinched the last three MVC regular season crowns.  

“I take extreme pride in that,” said VanVleet.  “It’s probably the most thing I’m proud of is the mark that we’ve left, and the relationship that I still have with those guys, every teammate that I’ve ever played with there, and the coaching staff as well.  I’ll take those with me for a while.”