Family affair

NBA Life is a family affair for Devin Vassell

It’s not uncommon for it to be 1 a.m. when Devin Vassell reaches his car at the AT&T Center after a late Spurs home game. Whatever the time — 1 a.m. in San Antonio, 2 a.m. in Portland, or 8 p.m. in Philadelphia — Devin’s day isn’t over until he calls his dad.

Win or lose, the two have debriefed after each of Devin’s games since the guard was in high school at Peachtree Ridge in an Atlanta suburb. Now in his second season with San Antonio, the 21-year-old certainly wants to hear from his coaches. But he also knows his dad will be honest in pointing out the flaws. And if Devin doesn’t identify anything that went wrong, then he can’t prevent it from happening again.

“Devin and I are talking about some of the things he could do better,” says Andrew Vassell, Devin’s father, who played in college and coached his three kids when they were young. “We have the same call after every game, no matter where he is.”

Devin Vassell sits for a portrait with his parents, Andrew and Cynthia, on February 22, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas. (Josh Huskin for San Antonio Magazine)

Along with being drafted at No.11 by Spurs in 2020, Devin says having his parents support every day is “probably the best thing that ever happened to me”. When he landed with the San Antonio Spurs, his parents offered to move to Alamo City with him for the duration of his first four-year contract. Still a teenager after playing two seasons with Florida State University, Devin had lived at home and then on campus. He had never had to pay rent or buy furniture.

He can’t remember a time when basketball wasn’t his main focus and the idea of ​​taking his game to a professional level while learning how to manage his money and manage all his bills for the first time was , in simple terms, overwhelming. .

“They help me so much. They say, ‘You focus on basketball, and we’ll focus on everything else,'” Devin said. “I really appreciate them.”

It’s been a whirlwind, says mom Cynthia, but they know they have the chance to face it. “We lived in Atlanta for 22 years, but we picked it all up and left,” says Cynthia, a former nurse who takes care of her son’s day-to-day business while Andrew works at CarMax. “When you get drafted, you just have to figure it all out, so we help navigate him so he can play basketball.”

Basketball from birth

Cynthia jokes that her husband had a goal of turning Devin into a ballplayer before he came out of the womb. He had a little plush basketball ready to be placed next to him in his crib when he was born and when Devin turned 1, dad bought him a Little Tikes basketball hoop despite still not being able to not really walking.

“His older brother played basketball, so he was a gym baby,” Cynthia says. “He waddled up to that hoop and, to our surprise, he dunked the ball into the basket.”

Both parents know parents can be biased, but say even Devin’s daycare teachers would say he was advanced, and by age 6, Devin was already playing an age group on the field.

Devin’s older brother is 13 years older than him and his sister 11 so before he was 10 it was just him and his parents at home. The family had taken vacations during the summers with the older children, but with Devin, the free time was spent going to basketball tournaments.

Then in college, Devin was kicked out of the team. “It devastated Devin, but it didn’t stop him from loving the game,” says Cynthia.

They eventually switched schools so Devin could play, and his parents say that from then on his game flourished.

Devin became the second-best player in his high school’s history, but he remained ranked outside the top 400 in his age group and while he was committed to playing in college, scouts from I Division didn’t line up to talk to him. “He was always the underdog,” says Andrew.

Florida State made a bid for its senior year, and Devin was in on it. He told his parents he planned to play for two years and then make the NBA draft.

“He was always telling me, ‘I’m going to play in the NBA’,” says Cynthia. “But what are the chances of that happening? So, I would ask him what his backup was if he wasn’t playing basketball. He said, ‘Mom, I keep telling you I’m going to the NBA, so please don’t ask me that again because it hurts me.’ »

In his freshman year at FSU, Devin averaged only about 10 minutes a game – and he had to convince his coach not to wear him a red shirt before the season even started.

“He came home that summer and said, ‘One more year,’ and I was like, ‘Devin, you’re only playing 10 minutes. But we never made him feel like he couldn’t do it,” Andrew says. “Whatever you have in mind, we’ve got you covered.”

Devin came back as a sophomore with the resolve to stand out and he did. He averaged 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, helping lead FSU to a 26-5 record.

Still, says Andrew, when he entered the draft, they were ready for him to go late in the first round or even the second round.

Spurs selected him at No.11.

“I looked at my husband and said what is a Spur?” Cynthia said. “I’m from New York and my husband is Jamaican. We had never been to San Antonio.

They might not be San Antonio fans, but Devin and Andrew knew about Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich’s reputation.

“Coming here was easy for me,” says Devin. “Especially with Coach Pop and knowing the type of organization they are, they care about winning and good basketball and their players.”

another level

After a first season with limited crowds and numerous COVID-related restrictions, Devin comes into its own this season.

Having played just over 30 games a season in college, Devin says it took some tweaking to get used to the NBA’s 82 games a year. “We joke about it, but I feel like every day is a Wednesday. Either you play or you don’t play, so all of your days kind of go together,” he says. to get to know your body and how you are supposed to eat and take care of yourself.”

Sometimes that means stepping into a cold bath after a game (and putting off that dad call), while other times that means rehabbing yourself from injury. He had also become accustomed to not only playing with his teammates in college, but also living in the next room and having meals with them. As a pro, you practice or play, head to the locker room and go home. Devin found it took longer to build connections.

After Derrick White was traded before the All-Star break earlier this year, Devin was named the starting shooting guard. He had already made an impact for Spurs, but the change put him in a position to help lead the team in a new way. The Silver & Black may have five championships, but Devin says his young players see themselves as underdogs, and while it’s no longer about Tim, Manu and Tony, there’s just as much of an appetite for success. .

“Being a leader doesn’t mean you know everything. It just means you’re talking. If the team is not playing to its full potential, you are saying something,” he said. “I like to hold everyone accountable because I like to hold myself accountable. At the end of the day, all I want to do is win.

He also wants to make his parents proud, which means figuring out how to take this opportunity he’s been given and use it to impact people outside of the gym. He partnered with the San Antonio Food Bank to collect donations last year and Operation Warm in February to provide coats to children in need, but he hopes to do more. “I’m lucky and lucky to be able to play and do something that I love,” Devin says. “There are a lot of people who need help or resources and if I’m able to do it, why wouldn’t I? It’s definitely something my mom and dad instilled in me.

Cynthia also contributes, talking with Devin and his financial advisor about his passions and how he could give back to the community.

On home game nights, Cynthia and Andrew are always in the stands – if they’re stuck in traffic and running a few minutes late, Devin notices.

Once Andrew retires in December, he also hopes to take part in as many away games as possible. Eventually, the couple will return to Atlanta. They miss seeing their older children and grandchildren on a regular basis (including a 6-year-old grandson who can’t stop talking about his Uncle D and the NBA 2K video game he and teammate Keldon Johnson are in. presented). But they plan to still be involved in managing Devin’s career.

“Every time I walk into the AT&T Center, it’s a blessing for me,” says Andrew. “It’s almost surreal. My son is playing there against LeBron James, who we’ve watched his whole life. It’s a dream come true and it’s truly a blessing. He is on a stage where he can change things and touch people. He’s a humble kid and I look forward to all the ways he can help people on the road.