Even though he’s in his fourth season in the D-League, Vander Blue stays patient waiting for a call-up that would give him a chance to showcase his all-around offensive game in the NBA, where he has played only five games with the Lakers and Celtics.
You’ve been one of the best players in the D-League, if not the best. You’re on the best team in the competition. What are you still doing here?
Vander Blue: I’m just trying to get better every day, stand faithful, stand prayerful, trying to obviously make my team better. We’re No. 1 right now, but still, there’s a lot of improvement that we need to work on as a team, and that’s the most important right now. I’m just trying to take it day by day and not worry about anything else that’s going on and everything.
You’ve in the D-League for four years. This is like a constant audition for the players. Do you have any feedback from NBA teams about what you need to do to get that call-up?
VB: Obviously, teams say that they’re interested, but when it comes to that it’s mostly about the fit with the team and what they’re looking for. It’s not always the best player that gets selected. It’s more about what the teams are looking for or the history, the connection they have with the team organization. I try not to think about it that much as I did, say, two years coming into this league. Now I’m trying to work on myself and becoming a better player, and becoming a better person. Like I said, I think it’s going to work out for itself because the universe is gonna work like that. All the hard work we put in. The team, we’re playing the right way, we’re the best team as you said. We got blessed with three All-Stars, and also the coaching staff and the coach. So it’s a lot of good positive things in this. The ultimate goal is the call-up, but it’s a process so I’m just keeping my faith and keep believing in myself.
You were talking about the D-League All-Star Game, which is not like the NBA All-Star Game. Players really put in a fight and want to be the best there. Are you looking forward to that day to showcase your skills in front of the NBA people?
VB: Definitely. Every game I try to come in with a chip on my shoulder. That’s basically a part of who I am. All-Star Game, regular game, it doesn’t matter. I’m gonna take the same approach and try to just compete as hard as I can and most important, to win.
D-League salaries are not exactly the highest in pro basketball. How do you manage to make a living with that?
VB: Living it’s not that hard. I’m blessed I have the support of my family. I went to China this summer for a couple of months. So the money it’s not the issue right now at this point of my life. I just turned 24 last summer. I’m still dream chasing. I feel that if you’re doing it for the money you’re doing it for the wrong reason. I’m here chasing the goal. When I achieve my goal, more money will come, that’s what it is about. So I’m just here to do that. Hassan Whiteside could have gone overseas for a couple of million, but he chose to sit back and play in the D-League. And look at him now, he had $120 million, so all that stuff is gonna play off. Like I said, it’s how it all works. It is a grind.
Do you have offers from overseas lately?
VB: Yeah, but I told my agent I don’t really wanna hear about overseas right now. I feel like if I start thinking about that I’m gonna lose focus about what I need to do here. And I want my mind, my soul, my body all to be in one spot so I can really be the best I can be. So right now, I’m not really listening to overseas offers. I’m just trying to still do what I can right now to get in the door.
What do you think you can bring to an NBA team at this point of your career if you get called-up?
VB: Just a hard-nosed player that is gonna play hard. Trying to do whatever the team needs me to do. Teams are probably looking at me as a scorer, but I feel like I can do a lot more with the team: playmaking, defending, just making big plays, trying to come in and be a spark to some team. I’m a young player and I’m still willing to learn. I know I still have a lot of improvement to do in my game but I’m trying to come in and work as hard as I can and be the best player I can.
What goes through your mind when another D-League player gets called-up? Do you think it should have been you or are you happy for him?
VB: Obviously, everybody feels like he should be the one to get the call, but I am at some point of my life and my career where I’m happy for him. Briante Weber, he got called-up, I sent him a text, told him congrats. We’re all in this together. We’re all fighting for the same dream. So who am I to hate on somebody else for getting there first? Everybody’s story is different. So it’s all love, man. When people get the call-up and get a chance, I feel like that’s the greatest thing in the world and it shows you that it really can happen at any moment. You never really know. You may be in the D-League for a week or you may just be here for six years, seven… You don’t know. It’s all about based on how you feel and going with your heart and living your life. So I’m more than happy for everybody that makes it out of here, because it’s a grind, everybody knows that, and I know it’s a pleasure. When I got my call it was the best feeling ever. So I would never wish bad or not be happy for somebody who got called up.
When you see the story of Yogi Ferrell, who got called up and became a fan favorite in Dallas, does that give you hope you can have the same kind of impact for an NBA team?
VB: It gives you a lot of hope. It shows you, it’s living proof right there. I’m pretty sure when we played Yogi in Brooklyn like a month ago I’m pretty sure he would have never thought he would be where he is right now. He just kept the faith and I’m happy for him.
You used to play in college with guys who are currently really important in the NBA like Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder. Are you still in touch with them and do they give you advice?
VB: Jae is my brother. I live with Jae in the summer, so I talk with him every day, we have the same agent. That’s my big brother. So we talk every day just about life and everything. I’m in contact with him every single day. I haven’t talked with Jimmy in a little bit. We don’t talk as much as we used to, but Jimmy is always there for me to trying to give me some assistance, trying to help me. In Marquette, we are family, so we’re all still pretty close and we take pride on that. It’s a brotherhood, so all those guys are still very supportive of me, they tell me what they think about me. They all believe I’m an NBA player and it’s gonna happen soon. We’re all just trying to embrace our grind. They grind in the NBA, I’m grinding here, but we all just want to see everybody be successful.
I’m really curious about your Chinese experience. You didn’t go to the CBA, which is the big league. You went to the NBL, the second-tier league they play in the summer. How was that?
VB: It was OK. I was in Nanning. Probably wasn’t the best place. I struggled a little bit because I wasn’t familiar with the food, but it was a good experience. Just to get away for a little bit, make some money, play some basketball. I could have obviously played in the CBA, but being my first instance it was a good opportunity for me to go there for a month and try to help the team. Overall, it was a great experience, a great organization, big competition out there. It was fun, it was a learning experience. I learned a lot, good and bad. It sort of made me wanna come back here and be hungry to make it because this is where you want to be. It was pretty good.
You played in Israel at the start of your professional career, the Chinese experience, you played for Lakers and Celtics at one point in your career. In the D-League, you’re the sixth-best scorer in the history of the competition. You’re only 24, but you have had a really eventful career. Do you look back and reflect on everything you have done?
VB: Yeah, I left school early after we went to the Elite Eight. I had a great junior year and I was ready for it. No matter if I’m not in the NBA now or what people may think or somebody else is saying. I know I’m an NBA player. I know it’s gonna happen. So all of those bumps as I would call were just my career, and it was fun. In Israel, I had a great time. I met really good people, got a chance to play basketball at a high level over there. There’s a great league over there. On the D-League teams, I remember I wasn’t one of the better players. I was coming off the bench without really playing much, not knowing what I wanted to do. And then as you know I got called up by the Celtics. It happens so fast I really don’t give much time to sit back and reflect as much as I want to, but I definitely carry that chip on my shoulder, and I think that sort of translates to the way that I play. I’ve been through a lot, to be honest, at 24. People don’t know that, but I’m only 24 and I still have a lot of basketball to play hopefully if God keeps blessing me. At 24, I guess it’s the average rookie. I think Malcolm Brogdon from Milwaukee is having a good season and he’s 24, but I’ve got four years of experience under my belt. It’s kind like I’m an Euro player over here, it’s weird, but it’s all good, man. I don’t get time to reflect as much as I want to because it would drive me crazy thinking about everywhere I’ve been, all the teammates, everything that has happened to me in my life and career, but I just try to make sure I stay prayed up and keep faith.