Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet dunked in a pickup game recently.
He landed, according to witness Kellen Marshall, with a satisfied grin.
As Marshall, son of WSU coach Gregg Marshall, remembers, the moment happened near the end of a blowout in the Koch Arena practice gym. Marshall and his friends played and VanVleet wanted to run, so he joined them.
“He got an outlet pass,” Kellen Marshall said. “He took a couple dribbles and went off two feet and got a one-handed dunk. It was a real dunk, no doubt about it.”
VanVleet is happy to talk about the dunk – because basketball players love to dunk – and also a little hesitant. Dunking, he knows, is a small, flashy part of basketball and what the dunk shows about his summer conditioning program is the real cause for celebration entering his senior season.
“If there’s anything about my game that anybody could see is that I’m not the most athletic guy out there,” he said. “So I try to spend as much time as I can in the offseason working on that.”
VanVleet shows up in the weight room three times a week for 20 minutes of jump training. He wears a weighted vest, packing on weights up to 40 pounds, and jumps off two-inch mats to dunk on a hoop attached to the wall. The pads protect knees from wear and tear.
“I haven’t measured my vertical, but I know for a fact I’ve increased it somewhat,” VanVleet siad. “My biggest goal is to be dunking by the time games start. I’m getting there. Barring anything crazy, we’ll be able to see some good results this year.”
WSU strength and conditioning coach Kerry Rosenboom estimates VanVleet added around six inches to his leap.
“He’s gone from dunking a tennis ball to a volleyball to, now, in a pickup game, dunking a basketball,” Rosenboom said. “I look at the mats he’s jumping off of to dunk with a weighted vest, and he’s gone down three mats.”
VanVleet’s bigger goal is lose around eight pounds so he can play at 185. He wants to move with more quickness and agility, attributes that will help him in many ways besides dunking. VanVleet is skilled at getting to the basket and a bump in athletic ability will help his efficiency in scoring over and around bigger players.
Part of this, Rosenboom says, is about attracting the attention of NBA scouts. If VanVleet adds muscle and definition and dunks in a game, he might start to check boxes for athletic ability scouts previously ignored.
“As much as it helps your jumping, it helps your lateral movement, quickness, you’re getting more explosive,” VanVleet said. “I’ve already got a lot of finishes I can do, and I think as my vertical increases, hopefully, I’ll get more finishes that I can do and it’s going to be scary for a lot of people.”
VanVleet is just as big on his stretching routine.
Rosenboom traveled with the Shockers during the NCAA Tournament last season, something he didn’t do in the past. If you happened to be walking on a treadmill in a hotel exercise room in downtown Cleveland late at night, Rosenboom and VanVleet might have joined you for a stretching session. VanVleet played heavy minutes in the NCAA Tournament and he credits an increased emphasis on flexibility with loosening his hips and calming his tight hamstrings. He no longer feels the need to wear a sleeve to keep his hamstrings warm as he did as a sophomore.
“It showed in the tournament,” he said. “I was feeling really good in the games. The season is a grind and there’s going be days and games when your body feels like crap. The more you can limit those days, the better off you’ll be.”
VanVleet remembers dunking once in high school, his senior season at Belvidere (Ill.) North. While his game is about much more than dunking, that July day in the practice gym provides a nice bit of proof that he isn’t strictly a below-the-rim operator.
“Everybody was shocked,” he said. “I used to jump a lot better. As I got to college, other things became more of a priority on the basketball court. I’m just trying to be more athletic.”
In the race — Kansas City’s Jeriah Horne lists WSU in his group of six schools he is considering. Horne, a 6-foot-7 forward who is a senior at The Barstow School in Kansas City, Mo., is also considering Pepperdine, Nebraska, Kansas State, DePaul and Iowa State, via his Twitter account.
He averaged 18.9 points as a junior for the Class 3 champions and earned All-Class 3 honors as a sophomore and junior.
“My top priorities are having communication and good chemistry with the coaches, and the opportunity to make an early contribution,” Horne told Rob Harrington of Scout.com.
Scout.com and Rivals.com rank Horne a three-star prospect.
Put aside your differences — WSU volleyball player Dani Mostrom knows some of her Missouri Valley Conference rivals better after the MVC’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee met in late July in St. Louis.
Seventeen athletes from the 10 MVC schools met to share ideas on NCAA issues and life in their athletic departments and on campus. The respresentatives from Loyola suggested a cycling fund-raiser which gets all the school’s athletes together in a gym, something Mostrom might suggest for WSU.
“We talked about national issues, such as cost of attendance,” she said. “We talked about the four-year transfer rules. Some people are in favor of it, because they thought student-athletes should have the choice to go to a grad school that offers the program they like. Others thought that you dedicated your time and efforts to this program and coaches put in four years of training, so they feel like you should finish with them.”
Northern Iowa volleyball player Amie Held and Missouri State’s Lilly Johnson represented their schools, giving Mostrom a chance to meet athletes she competes against during the season.
“I had no idea it would be that interesting,” he said. “It’s an eye-opening experience, definitely a big-picture look at all of college athletics. It’s not just about Wichita State, it’s about all college student-athletes.”
Worth noting — WSU’s Volleyball 101 dinner and auction is at 5:30 p.m., Aug. 22 at Koch Arena. Tickets are $40. For information call (316) 978-3267.… WSU isn’t the only MVC school grabbing men’s basketball transfers late in the summer. Evansville added Ryan Taylor, a 6-foot-5 transfer from Ohio. He started 28 games as a freshman and averaged 8.1 points.