Fred VanVleet’s phone kept ringing after he committed to play basketball at Wichita State.
When he exploded in AAU basketball after his junior season at Auburn High in Rockford, Ill., so did his appeal to schools that might have been hesitant before.
But VanVleet, a 5-foot-11 guard who was rated as the No. 19 point guard in the class of 2012 and the No. 138 player overall, kept his word.
He’s a Shocker. And anyone who saw his 17-point, nine-assist performance during Wednesday night’s 71-56 win over Drake at Koch Arena is happy for the kid’s scruples.
“It’s just the loyalty thing,” VanVleet said of honoring his WSU commitment, made in July, 2011, after his junior season. “Growing up, that’s been embedded in me. Just be loyal. It was my decision to make the commitment early so I felt like I owed it to (Wichita State). I would have never made the decision if I didn’t see myself coming here.”
Even with such an impressive resume – WSU coach Gregg Marshall said VanVleet is his most decorated recruit – the guard hasn’t taken the Shockers by storm.
VanVleet has had to bide his time behind senior Malcolm Armstead. He got his chance Wednesday because of a hip injury that limited another WSU guard, senior Demetric Williams, to seven minutes.
“He played very well,” Marshall said. “Fred seized the opportunity.”
Playing a season-high 35 minutes, VanVleet was able to find the kind of rhythm a point guard desires. He made a couple of early shots, then became more confident than he has all season.
“You see the ball go through the net early and it helps your confidence,’’ VanVleet said. “A freshman year is difficult when you’re a star in high school. You have to figure out how to be a role player. Tonight it felt like I got a lot of great minutes.’’
At times, VanVleet took over the game. He made 5 of 10 shots, a couple of three-pointers and got to the free-throw line six times, making five. He was everywhere he needed to be and committed only one turnover. As icing on his coming-out party cake, VanVleet had five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.
“Fred is in a perfect situation here,” Marshall said. “He has come into a program that’s winning. He’s a winner and he has served his apprenticeship. And basically he’s ready to be the head guy.”
That’s going to happen soon, for sure. Armstead and Williams will be gone after this season, so the 2013-14 Shockers will be VanVleet’s team.
Wichita State fans got a preview of what that will look like Wednesday night.
VanVleet had topped 20 minutes only six times in 25 previous games, including a season-high 29 against Bradley on Jan. 26. He’s a true point guard, usually under control and with his eyes on the things a point guard should have his eyes on.
“He’s going to be a tremendous floor general for us,” Marshall said. “He’s so cerebral and he’s able to change gears, change speeds and hit the three ball.”
VanVleet said he committed to Wichita State early because of the school’s basketball tradition and the typical crowds of 10,000-plus.
“They’re on the rise,” he said. “Obviously, we haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament a lot since the 1980s, but with Coach Marshall, we’re coming up.”
Still, he admits that all of the extra interest schools poured over him after he made the decision to attend WSU was flattering. He didn’t want to say which schools made the biggest pushes, but confessed there were a few.
“You think about it,” VanVleet said. “But you can’t leave what you already committed to.”
Marshall confessed to some restless nights as he worried about VanVleet’s promise.
“I had to sweat it out all summer,” he said. “The big boys called on him and it was tenuous for a while.”
For Marshall, perhaps. But not for VanVleet, who says he never wavered.
“You just can’t leave what you’ve already committed to,” he said. “That’s the point of a commitment. When you feel like you’re ready to make that leap, it’s something you have to stick to.”
In VanVleet, the Shockers have a heady, talented point guard who never spent a second lamenting his decision, or that he’s had to play behind more experienced players this season. He didn’t arrive at Wichita State with demands for playing time and has never shown any disappointment about his role.
Despite his star high school status, he never got a big head.
“I just stay humble,” VanVleet said. “When you’re loyal, it connects you to being humble. If you’re not loyal, then you’re going to run out on whoever is in your life and it’s easy to get big-headed.”
That’s an 18-year-old kid talking. Sounds like the Shockers are in good hands for the next few seasons.