By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
Rockford Auburn’s Fred Van Vleet averaged 20 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists at the IHSA Class 4A State Finals.
This is after averaging 21 points and nearly 8 assists all season, and after becoming the all-time leading scorer in Rockford Public School history as a point guard, and after leading a group of Rockford players on a barnstorming tour around the country this summer, beating the top talent all over.
He scored more points than anyone down state this year, and averaged closer to 25 points per game during the playoffs while leading his undersized team to a surprise appearance down state.
At least, it was a surprise to everyone but those in town, who expected not only the trip, but also a championship. Despite all of that, however, Rockford natives received a surprise of their own.
When the 2012 Illinois Mr. Basketball was announced last week, Van Vleet’s name was nowhere to be found. Balloting allows votes for three players, and while only one is the winner, they do announce the top three finishers.
And in those three, there was no room for the best performer at the state tournament.
The winner was no surprise, Chicago Simeon’s Jabari Parker, generally regarded as the top prospect in the country and a likely future NBA lottery pick.
Second place was Proviso East’s Keith Carter, whose team did beat Van Vleet’s team twice, though you could argue Van Vleet outplayed his counterpart.
Third was North Chicago’s Aaron Simpson, a good point guard who did lead his team to the state finals. His numbers are similar to Van Vleet’s, but his team was also smashed twice by a Gurnee Warren team that Van Vleet dropped 27 on in a win.
What is even more shocking is the lack of votes for Van Vleet. While ballots are not released, it appears as though the senior heading to Wichita State had little to no support outside of the immediate area.
It is hard to say why that is. He had exposure this summer with his AAU team playing on ESPN networks several times.
And while Auburn, and all Rockford schools, have limited, if any, budget to promote themselves, they did broadcast some games online this year. That means voters could have found footage to watch if they had questions.
And most voters were down state to watch his performance.
The meaning of all this is that, again, the Chicago area has found a way to minimize the efforts of someone out of their reach. It is not only a Rockford-area problem, but with our athletic programs rising, it is a problem here.
The lack of recognition hurts this area. It certainly hurts a hard-working kid who earned the recognition and still didn’t receive it. But it will only drive Van Vleet to continue proving people wrong while at Wichita State.
Where it really hurts is some of the other kids in the area and their futures. What about some of the good players who have college potential but may have to compete at lower levels because colleges never hear of these players?
There will be other good players to come around, but Van Vleet is likely a once-in-a-decade-type player. But what about the next really good player who just may be worthy of that recognition as well? If things don’t change, that player will likely be left in the dark as well.
The answers are unknown about how to fix this problem. Chicago is such a large area and has what appears to be an infinite number of media outlets to help hype their kids.
But it is hoped, with a run of state titles this year and more young talent on the rise, people outside of Rockford will be left with no choice but to recognize the young athletes in this area.
From the March 28-April 3, 2012, issue