Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet graduated from Rockford (Ill.) Auburn High two years ago. On Thursday, he returned to give the graduation speech at his alma mater.
Normally, the school looks for an older speaker, one with a few more experiences to share. VanVleet’s reputation and strong connection to his hometown made him a popular choice.
“He loves where he’s from,” said Katie Wishowski-Wetzel, Auburn vice principal. “The kids like him and they relate to him on several levels. It’s nice to have someone come back and relate to kids about athletics and working hard.”
VanVleet spoke to around 350 graduates at Rockford’s BMO Harris Bank Center.
“It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in those seats where you all are sitting right now, sweating, anxious, probably ready for it get over, probably ready for me to stop talking,” he said. “I know what you’re feeling.”
VanVleet told the graduates to think about the day as the beginning of adult life.
“The power is really in your hands,” he said. “Your entire future is in your hands. You get to define your own success. You get to choose how you go about getting that success.”
He talked about the sacrifices and hard work necessary to make success, whether in college, work or the military. He concluded by challenging the students to not consider Thursday’s graduation the peak of their life. As he frequently does, he referenced Rockford’s reputation as a tough place to grow up because of crime and poverty.
“I want you to go out and use this as a platform,” he said. “They’re always telling us Rockford is a miserable place to live, not a lot of talent coming out of Rockford. You can live up to it and make it worse, or you can change it and make it better. The power of change starts with choices.”
“No girlfriend. No family. No friends from the states. I just let it go,” he said. “My brother’s wedding’s coming up in a little over a month, so I’ll probably have to get it rid of it then.”
Stutz, a former Wichita State basketball player, will keep most of what he acquired while playing for Czarni Slupsk in Poland. He learned to love pasta and chicken prepared the European way with less salt. In some restaurants, he needed translation help over the phone from teammates to order. He learned how to run and defend the pick and roll, which should help his quest to find a spot on an NBA roster. He toured Rome and World War II sites in Poland.
Stutz, an All-Missouri Valley Conference pick in 2012 at center, is back in Wichita working out with strength coach Kerry Rosenboom for a time. He has workouts with two NBA teams tentatively planned and hopes to play in the Orlando Summer League before his brother’s wedding.
He averaged averaged 12.6 points and 7.1 rebounds for Czarni Slupsk and believes his experience will help his NBA resume. The specialized nature of professional basketball allows him to work on the pick and roll often, a critical skill for NBA teams.
“It’s still a dream I have,” he said. “Most of the basketball is pick-and-roll. In the NBA, everyone is going to half-court offense and it’s 85-percent pick-and-roll.”
If he does not return to Poland, he will take a look at other teams in Europe. He may return to Asia and has experience playing for a team in South Korea.
“Korea and Japan are two good leagues for big guys,” he said. “They pay really well. All four of those leagues have developed guys into NBA players, which is another nice aspect.”
Lufile, a 6-foot-8 forward, averaged 5.9 points and 5.0 rebounds for WSU. He isn’t a likely NBA prospect, but that didn’t stop him from trying to make a big impression on Toronto coaches and general manager Masai Ujiri. Lufile said he asked them if he could work out on his own for about an hour after the group session ended. He did so, working more on shooting drills and post moves with one of the team’s trainers.
“I tried to translate my hard work and leadership from WSU to these pro workouts,” he said. “I’m not here to play no games.”
A good workout in front of NBA types will help Lufile get work overseas. Lufile said his wing-span measured 7 feet, 2 inches and he impressed the observers with with his speed. He bench-pressed 185 pounds (the NBA standard for its draft combine) 19 times.
“It’s going to get my name out more,” he said. “I just have to be at the right place at the right time.”
Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis, also a Canadian, Indiana State guard Jake Odum, Michigan State guard Keith Appling, Arizona State center Jordan Bachynski, another Canadian, and others joined Lufile in the workout.
“I feel like my shooting, it really improved,” he said. “It was a real good experience. It was something I never dreamed about.”
He got a good recommendation from teammate Jordan Farris, an infielder who signed with WSU in April, and talked with Shocker coaches Todd Butler and Brian Walker.
He will visit WSU this summer to take his first look around his college choice. Tinkham plays first base and catches and is particularly looking forward to working with Walker, a catcher in college and the minor leagues.
“They’ll put me in the right place to get better and move to the next level,” Tinkham said. “Coach Walker is going to be the coach I need to get better defensively and offensively.”
Tinkham said he also considered Arkansas, Texas Tech, UC Santa Barbara, Central Florida and Houston.
Tinkham had shoulder surgery on Thursday. He dislocated his right shoulder sliding into home in Oxnard’s first playoff game. Before the injury, he led Oxnard in batting average (.360), on-base percentage (.480) and slugging percentage (.537). He hit four home runs and stole 10 bases in 13 attempts with 29 RBIs in 37 games.
Tinkham, now wearing a sling, will rehab this summer and start throwing in three months. He expects to be limited to hitting during fall practices at WSU.
“I’ll be full go in the spring,” he said.