Rockford native Fred VanVleet returns to Illinois Saturday night, playing for the Toronto Raptors' D-League affiliate. It's a meaningful event for the city to have a native son playing pro basketball.
"I hope he's a symbol to people of what hard work and dedication can do."
From the 815 to the NBA, Fred VanVleet has carried the Rockford torch to the pros.
"He's an inspiration to us all. All the Auburn players, we look up to him."
Auburn's coaches and current players have vivid memories of VanVleet filling the highlight reel during his high school career.
"Watching him play, it was fun. He was a great point guard, knew what he was doing at all times. Always under control," says Auburn junior Terry Ford. "Now I just try to image that, or take some things out of his game and put it into mine."
"The things he saw and the things he understood, the things he computed with him before anybody else, marked him as a special player," said Auburn head boys basketball coach Bryan Ott.
VanVleet carried that precision at point guard to Wichita State, breaking records for the Shockers.
"He's basically there doing the same thing as a point guard, making other people better. It's at that point in college that I started to think he had a legitimate shot at the league," Ott said.
Undrafted, a Summer League tryout, and now consistent NBA and D-League minutes. Everyone is enjoying VanVleet's journey.
"You would look at him and say I can do those same things," says Auburn junior Yahmir Muhammad. "Then you see him in the NBA, and you say, maybe I could go too."
"Just to see how where we come from, someone can make it out, you can make it out, you have a chance," says Ford.
Fred VanVleet has become a shining light for a city that needs a positive presence.
"He becomes a beacon of hope in that sort of sense," says Ott. "High profile enough that it's a symbol of what's good about this place."
Rockfordians can show their gratitude Saturday night, to see a native son in person make the jump from the 815 to the NBA. Raptors 905 and the Windy City Bulls tip off at the Sears Centre Saturday night at 7:00.