Let’s start here with Florida State’s Devin Vassell: Several teams with a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft, including the Knicks, have Vassell on their radar.
According to teams monitoring Vassell’s situation, New York has been in regular contact with people around the sophomore wing. Another team tracking Vassell described the Knicks as collecting "a ton" of information on Vassell – similar to the approach they’ve taken with other top forwards in the draft.
Vassell, 20, has also drawn interest from teams with picks ahead of New York.
If he’s available when the Knicks are on the clock with the eighth pick on Nov. 18, do Leon Rose & Co. pull the trigger? If not, Vassell probably won’t be on the board much longer.
If New York takes Vassell, the club will get a player with a remarkable backstory.
Vassell was ranked outside of the top 400 in his high school class, recruited by just two Division I schools (Presbyterian and North Florida) before Florida State and was in and out of the Seminoles’ rotation for much of his freshman season.
To learn more about Vassell, we turned to Florida State assistant coach Charlton ‘CY’ Young. Young was the first coach from a top program to offer Vassell a scholarship. After receiving a tip from Steve Bouye, the head of Vassell’s AAU team, Young went to watch the lanky forward at a scrimmage. After a few minutes, he offered Vassell a scholarship.
“From the first time I saw him, he was just special,” Young says.
Young obviously believed in Vassell more than any other top college coach in the country at the time, but even he’s been surprised by Vassell’s development.
“When he first came to Florida State, I thought he might be there for three-four years and be a pro,” Young says. “Like, ‘Bambi’s going to get some bucks on his head, and it’s going to be over.’… Exactly what I thought was going to happen, happened. But what I didn’t factor in – he was (a) high-character gym rat.
“His humility was through the roof and all he wanted to do was get better. Everything we told him, he tried to do.”
Case in point: Vassell shot 21 percent beyond the arc in high school. He spent the summer before his freshman season with Young and the Florida State staff, working on his shot. Over the past two seasons, he’s hit over 41 percent of his 3-point attempts at FSU.
“What does that tell you about Devin Vassell? You judge people on consistent behavior -- not what they say or what they do.” Young says. “What that action tells you about Devin Vassell is that anything y'all tell him he can't do right now, eventually he’s going to work on it and he’s going to be doing it.”
THE SHOOTING VIDEO
I don’t agree with people in our business who base their news decisions on things that are popular on Twitter. But I contradict that a bit here by addressing a video that surfaced on social media recently showing Vassell shooting from well beyond the NBA 3-point line.
Basketball trainers and experts watched the video and wondered if Vassell had altered his shooting form. As noted above: Vassell hit 41 percent of his threes in college. Given that, it would be odd for Vassell to change his form weeks ahead of the NBA Draft.
So I asked Young about the video. At first, he chuckled. Then, he said, unequivocally, that Vassell hasn’t altered his shooting.
“He has not changed his shot at all,” Young says.
Here’s what happened: Young said Vassell was messing around at the end of a workout, shooting from about five steps behind the 3-point line. He was hitting most of his attempts, so someone at the workout started to film the shooting session.
That person put the video on social media without the context mentioned above (Vassell is messing around at the end of a workout shooting from well beyond the 3-point line).
So people assumed that Vassell had altered his shot. Not the case, Young says.
“Because he’s shooting from so far back, he’s sling-shotting it from over his head. Because it’s way deep. It was a (mess around) half-court shot,” Young says. “He always had kind of a high release but he hasn’t changed his shot. He doesn’t bring it back that far. He has not changed his shot at all.”
Young believes that Vassell will shoot well at the next level. More time to work on perimeter shooting should yield strong results for Vassell.
“It's hard to get the time you need to hone your shot in college. You can only be in a gym with (players) on certain hours. When they become professionals, they can be in there all day, working on it,” Young says.
Part of Young’s confidence in Vassell comes from the player’s consistent approach to improvement.
“Never ever ever bet against consistent behavior,” Young says. “What's the knock on him now? Can't handle the ball? Can't beat a man one on one, get downhill? You tell Devin Vassell that he’s got to get better getting downhill off the dribble, consistent behavior says that he’s going to be doing it in three months.”
Young has coached in college for nearly 25 years. He knows a pro player when he sees one. The list of NBA players he has recruited includes Malik Beasley, Dwayne Bacon, Derrick Favors, Iman Shumpert, Toney Douglas, Thaddeus Young, Terrence Mann, Chris Porter, Anthony Morrow and Moochie Norris.
Young laughs when he says he landed Morris, an eight-year pro, when he had a beeper instead of a cell phone.
“I know a player when I see a player,” he says.
Young learned early on that Vassell’s "laid-back, mild-mannered" demeanor belies a nasty competitive streak.
“Inside the lines, he wakes up mad every morning,” Young says. “He knows that they had him ranked 17 in the city of Atlanta (in high school). He knows every guy that was ranked ahead of him. He’s got a long list and he’s marking them off. He remembers.”
Something else that’s noteworthy about Vassell? His ability to react on the court. Young calls it "hi-speed WiFi.”
“There's some guys that play the game and they got the (loading) circle on their phone. They can’t read and react quickly. Their decision-making is slow. With Devin, his decision-making comes in crystal clear,” Young says.
The coach adds that Vassell can make quick decisions on both sides of the ball and make an impact without the ball in his hands.
“If he's in the opposite corner guarding a guy and somebody throws a lob pass over the top to the big at the rim, he's coming from the corner and he's going to rotate all the way over there. And he's going to deflect that ball,” Young says. “I can show you clip after clip after clip. Now, most people with the naked eye, they don't know what they’re watching. But I know that I'm watching Picasso. I know that I’m watching Albert Einstein. I know that I’m watching Bill Gates.
“I told the Knicks this, and I’m telling you – this boy is special.”