The New York Knicks could find their “it” factor in Devin Vassell:
Devin Vassell was only a three-star recruit when he entered Florida State University. Two years later, he’s leaving the Seminoles as a widely considered lottery pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton wasn’t surprised at all. To him, it was a validation of what they saw in Vassell when they recruited him out of a nondescript high school in Atlanta.
“This is the reason why we’re consistent. We do a great job evaluating. We identified him as a guy with good potential and we are pleased that he has really panned out just like we thought he would,” Hamilton told Empire Sports Media.
Hamilton has successfully built a strong program in Tallahassee that has consistently produced NBA players. Under his watch, the Seminoles have sent 14 players to the NBA — from Al Thornton to Malik Beasley and Jonathan Isaac.
For Vassell, the NBA Draft Day will be the culmination of two years of hard work and patience in the FSU basketball program.
“Devin started out as a freshman more of a role player at the beginning of the season. And at the end of the season, in a game that we have to win in the ACC tournament to get to the semifinals against Virginia Tech, he was the guy who hit the three in the deep corner to tie the game and gives us a chance to go on overtime and get to the semifinals,” Hamilton recalled.
Vassell’s rise wasn’t a question of how but just a matter of when.
“That says a lot about his patience, his coachability. Despite not playing much early in the season, he was prepared for the big moments which says a lot about his character,” Hamilton told Empire Sports Media.
In his sophomore year, Vassell led the Seminoles to the ACC regular-season championship. He could have led them to a deep run in the NCAA tournament, if not for the pandemic.
From 10.7 minutes in his freshman year, his playing time shot up to 28.8 minutes, and he responded big-time, leading the well-balanced Seminoles in scoring (12.7 points) and rebounds (5.1), second both in blocked shots (0.9) and steals (1.4).
Many, if not all, draft analysts see him as a solid 3-and-D prospect.
Unknown to many, Vassell wasn’t born a shooter. But through sheer hard work, he was able to morph from a 21.3 percent three-point shooter in high school to over 40 percent in his two years in Florida State. His 6’9 wingspan and tremendous motor on both ends of the floor have made him an intriguing prospect.
“Whoever gets him will get a hell of a player. Because he is a great shooter, he loves to play defense, he’s coachable. He has all those attributes and he’ll make good contributions to whoever drafts him,” Hamilton said.
This season, we’ve seen the rise of shooters Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, two players who were not highly drafted. Robinson, in fact, even was undrafted. But their shooting and court smarts have helped the Miami Heat advance deeper in the playoffs. And that could be the trajectory of Vassell’s NBA career or could be even bigger depending on where he lands.
“What separates Devin from a lot of guys is even though he has an even-keeled temperament, he has extreme confidence but he’s not selfish. He’s a team-guy but he has a knack of putting the ball in the basket. He’s one those guys that you can’t leave open. If you don’t contest his shot, a high percentage of those shots will go in. He’s shot over 40 percent of his three-point shots two years in a row. That speaks for itself,” he continued.
While Vassell’s game is tailor-fit into today’s NBA, it has also a throwback feel of an Allan Houston with that above-the-head, high trajectory jumper.
It’s no wonder the New York Knicks have put him on their radar. A highly placed source told Empire Sports Media that the Knicks have reached out to Florida State early this week to gather more information on the team’s experience with Vassell and his one-and-done teammate Patrick Williams on and off the court.
Hamilton politely declined to confirm the Knicks’ growing interest. All he said is that all 30 teams have, at one point, inquired about one or two of his three players in the Draft, including senior guard Trent Forrest.
It won’t be hard for Vassell to bring his shooting to the NBA, but the bigger question is: how will he thrive in the league as a defender?
Hamilton is confident that Florida State has prepared him to succeed in the next level.
“That’s all we do (ball screens) in practice. In our league, our conference, we deal with a lot of ball screens. Most of the NBA, in my opinion, they’re spacing the floor doing a lot of dribble drives. Not nearly as much ball screens as it once was. Devin will absolutely have no problem defending (in the NBA) because he’s long, athletic, fast-learner and we were one of the better defensive teams in the country so he was well-trained,” Hamilton said.
But what makes Vassell stand out, Hamilton point to the kid’s intangibles, which is wrapped under his 6-foot-7 and 194-pounds scrawny frame.
“Sometimes, people evaluate all the physical attributes but I think it’s very difficult to evaluate, which is the most important thing, is that your mentality, your emotions in the game, your IQ, your ability to make decisions, and how you respond to stressful situations. Well, that’s what they call it the “It” factor and Devin, he checks all those boxes,” Hamilton said. “And the good thing about him is his best basketball is still ahead of him.”
Hamilton described Vassell as a gym rat. If he’s not shooting the lights out, he’s in the weight room. He’s not worried at all that Vassell has a lean frame. To him, it’s just a matter of time before the 20-year old wingman grows bigger, thicker, and stronger. And when that happens, he believes, he’ll take his game to another level.
What separates a great pick from a draft bust is what the trained eye cannot always see. And Vassell, Hamilton said, has everything that points to him becoming an impact player in the NBA.
“Devin is a high-character youngster. He has a great support system with his mother and father. They are God-fearing people, he’s very religious and focused. He has a tremendous basketball IQ. He has great attention to detail. He is extremely unselfish, a great teammate. He’s a very hard worker. He’s a fast-learner. He has a tremendous amount of confidence. He’s a guy when the game is on the line, he’s focused and his confidence rises and he’s able to deliver under stressful situations. He’s the guy who has the ‘It’ factor,” Hamilton said.
Call him bias or whatever you want, but Hamilton has been in the business for so long that he knows it’s real when sees one. His coaching staff has been trained to value character more than high school accolades. And that’s what led them to unearth a diamond in the rough hiding in Peachtree Ridge High School in Atlanta.
Vassell is no longer the best kept secret high school player in Atlanta. He’s no longer playing under the radar. But his coach is glad to see he’s embracing the challenge, and he’s extremely confident about one thing: Vassell rises when the lights are at their brightest.