Joe Danfort: The Police Officer Who Saved Fred VanVleet

In 1999, Fred Manning was shot and killed because of his involvement with drug dealing in their hometown of Rockford, Illonois. Fred Manning left behind his wife Susan Vanfleet along with his two sons, Darnell and Fred Vanfleet. Susan VanVleet, now a single mother had to make ends meet with multiple jobs in order to survive. She told CTV’s W5 show that it was hard to raise two biracial African American kids as a Caucasian mother in Rockford because of racism in her community. Things started to turn out for the better when three years later Susan VanVleet met a policeman, Joe Danforth. Everything changed for the better when Susan and Joe began dating. Within a year, Susan, Darnell and Fred moved in with Joe Danforth and his sons.

Joe Danforth, prior to becoming a policeman, spent six years in the army. Being in the army taught him how to his raise and discipline the kids. The youngest of the kids, Fred VanVleet struggled growing up in Joe Danforth’s house with his family. He described it as being like a boot camp to CTV’s W5 show. Danforth’s way of teaching and disciplining was his way of keeping them off the streets. 

According to USA Today, Rockford, Illinois is ranked number 8 of the most dangerous cities in America in 2019. The statistic has shown that for every 100,000 people in Rockford, Illionios, there are 1,588 violent crimes. “They had seen a lot of kids with so much potential get sucked right in by gangs or drugs or whatever. They didn’t know how to get past it.” Susan mentioned in her interview with the sports website, Bleacher Report. Joe and Susan made sure that Fred and his brothers will be eligible to play with the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union), a youth sports organization. At times they would even go into debt because they could not afford the fees for the tournaments. However, both Joe and Susan saw the talent Fred had with in basketball. 

According to Bleacher Report, Joe would put Fred through 6 AM sport drills and workouts with his older brothers. “You’re not going to be average. Anyone can be average. You’re going to be somebody.” Joe told Fred. In high school, he beat different kinds of records such as the all-time leading scorer in Rockford public school history. He also led the team to 22 straight wins and to their first ever semi-finals of Illinois high school tournament. All credits went to Joe Danforth who made sure Fred was on the right path. Fred had a great high school career at Auburn High School. Sadly, he wasn’t on every wishlist of the local division 1 powerhouse universities such as University Of Wisconsin or University of Illinois at Urbana. As reported on, Fred eventually got Bruce Webber’s attention, the coach of Southern Illinois University. Bruce visited the Auburn High School once, however the recruitment between Fred and Bruce was cut short after the visit. Despite this Fred ended up playing for Wichita State University.

In his freshman year at Wichita State University, Fred came off the bench and averaged 4.3 points, 1.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Wichita State Shockers, just like their name, shocked the world when they upset the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Ohio State Buckeyes. These two powerhouse teams were 1st and 2nd best in the region. The end of the road came when they lost to Louisville Cardinals in Final Four of the NCAA tournament. The next season, Fred was inserted to play in the starting lineup and averaged 11.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. With Fred leading the charge, the Wichita State Shockers ended the season with 31 wins and 0 losses. They entered the NCAA tournament and beat the Cal Poly Mustangs in the second round, making it 35 straight wins. In the show First Take, Stephen A Smith an ESPN analyst bet the Wichita State to win it all. The Wichita State was 1st seed of the tournament. They disappointingly lost to the 8th seed Kentucky Wildcats lead by Julius Randle. Fred missed the game winning shot that could advance the Wichita state to the next round. It was a heartbreaking loss for Fred and realized that their historic season has ended. During his junior and senior seasons, Fred did statistically improve every year where he broke school records such as most assists (637) in Wichita State history. Fred unfortunately did not win any NCAA tournament with his tenure with the Wichita State Shockers.

The NBA Draft 2016 was around the corner after he graduated from Wichita State University. In the Sportnet talk show Tim & Sid, Fred mentioned that before the draft, he had 18 NBA workouts in 30 days. No sport analyst, sport website or NBA mock draft ever predicted that Fred VanVleet would be drafted in 2016. He ignored all the critics and optimistically hosted his own draft party. Around 150 people attended to his draft party. His sports agent, Brian Jungreis received calls about Fred getting drafted in the second round.  On Fred’s Youtube Channel, FVV TV, he mentioned that his agent, Brian actually hoped that he would not get drafted. Instead he advised him to play for Toronto Raptors and “bet on yourself.” As it predicted, Fred VanVleet was undrafted in 2016 NBA draft. In his speech after the draft party, he stated that he declined a few $20,000 offers to play for NBA development league affiliate team for a few years. He eventually signed with Toronto Raptors and played for them in the NBA Summer League, a preseason game for young NBA athletes. He was only guaranteed 3 games, however Fred impressed the Toronto Raptors. He was the last addition to the 15-man roster of the team. He signed multi-year deal with the Raptors for 2 years at $1.4 million.

In his rookie year, he played 37 games and averaged 2.9 points, 1.1 rebounds and 0.9 assist per game. He showed flashes of potential when the starting point guard Kyle Lowry was injured on January 17 against the Brooklyn Nets. Fred also played for the 905 Raptors which is the development affiliated team for the Toronto Raptors. He had a chance to showcase his talents there with his fellow rookie Pascal Siakam. Fred and Pascal led their team to the NBA D-league championship in 2017. The following year, he doubled his stats and averaged 8.6 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He was in the Toronto Raptors rotation, meaning that he was a key member of the team. At the end of the 2017-2018 season, Fred VanVleet was nominated for 6th man player of the year.

Fred re-signed with the Toronto Raptors and agreed to terms for two years on an $18 million contract in the 2018 offseason. The 2018-2019 season was a great year for Fred. He started 28 games and averaged 11 points, 2.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in the season. Fred VanVleet was a major key piece to the championship run that made the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 playoffs. Against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, a much needed 21 points and 7-9 three pointers from Fred gave the last push to win the game. The Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks and advanced to the NBA finals. In  Game 2 of the NBA finals, Fred played a crucial defense against the sharp shooting Steph Curry. The Toronto Raptors used a scheme called the “box and one” defense. This meant that Fred would follow wherever Steph Curry was on the court while the other 4 defenders stayed in their respective areas. His defensive effort helped the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in the finals and they became the 2019 NBA Champions. Surprisingly, Fred VanVleet was 2nd in voting for the NBA Finals MVP. An impressive career for someone who was supposed to play for NBA Development League for a couple years.

With all his success and accolades, he never forgets to give credit to his step father for shaping him to be determined and focused on his goals. “If he had never come along, who knows what would’ve happened to me.” Fred reflecting about his life in an interview with Bleacher Report.

From someone who hated 6 a.m workouts with his step father to 2nd in NBA Finals MVP voting. 

Fred VanVleet became the biggest role model for Rockford and Toronto community. 

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