Within the past couple years, undrafted point guard Gabe Vincent ascended from playing in front of hundreds in the NBA’s minor league in Stockton to powering an Olympic run for his father’s native Nigeria and thriving for the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs.
For the 25-year-old and 2014 St. Mary’s High graduate, it’s been a dramatic and unexpected turn to say the least.
Vincent, who grew up in Modesto and played his college ball for UC Santa Barbara, signed a two-way deal with the Miami Heat in January 2020 after excelling for the G-League’s Stockton Kings. “Two-way” players may be shifted between the NBA club and the minor league team as the franchise sees fit.
So, Vincent found himself on a plane to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to play for the G-League “Skyforce” in a hurry and spent the flight studying the Heat’s playbook.
“It was all a whirlwind,” Vincent said in an exclusive interview with Stocktonia. “It was snowing more than I’d ever seen in my life (in Sioux Falls). That was a huge adjustment.”
Vincent was called up to the NBA soon after and played meaningful minutes for the Heat, both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic began and the season shifted to the “bubble” at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The Heat reached the NBA Finals in the bubble and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers, but Vincent was inactive for the vast majority of the playoffs.
He took on a more prominent role the following season, appearing in 50 games, and ascended another level this year: averaging nine points and 42% shooting from 3-point land while starting 27 games.
An Olympic moment
In-between, Vincent starred on the Nigerian national team in the Beijing Olympics in the summer of 2021. Vincent, whose father Franklyn was born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. in his 20s, grabbed headlines by scoring a game-high 21 points in an exhibition win over the Americans.
He and Nigeria teammates Precious Achiuwa and KZ Okpala also play for the Heat, as does U.S. star and Heat center Bam Adebayo.
“We love to give Bam hell. Now, he returns in kind by waving his (gold) medal in our face,” Vincent said with a laugh. “We have fun with it.”
Nigeria lost all three games of its group stage—to Australia, Italy and Germany—to end its run in Beijing.
“My dad was born and raised in Nigeria… obviously, the culture is very instilled in him, and he instilled it in all of us,” Vincent said. “I’ve been back when I was really young, and I didn’t go back again until I was with the team.
“It was great to return home, as we call it, as a man. It gave me a sense of pride for my background and my people.”
Turning up the Heat in the postseason
The 6-foot-3 guard started eight playoff games for the Heat this spring in lieu of the injured Kyle Lowry, averaging eight points and three assists. Vincent scored in double figures seven times, including a postseason-high 17 in the Eastern Conference Finals’ Game 1 against Boston. Miami took Boston to seven games before losing at home.
“I started in the Eastern Conference Finals, bruh, that was crazy,” said Vincent, reflecting on his rapid life swing. “Especially at the point guard position, making those strides. It’s crazy to do it in general.”
Undrafted players succeeding in the NFL happens every season. It’s rare, in the NBA, for anyone who’s not a first-rounder to contribute in a big way. Vincent knew since his days at mid-major UC Santa Barbara that he would have to take alternate routes to the NBA.
“To be honest with you, I felt like I wouldn’t be drafted out of Santa Barbara unless we won a national title,” Vincent said. “I knew the hurdles that were ahead of me. It’s been the same every stage of my career.”
Making Stockton proud
Vincent played for St. Mary’s varsity from 2011-14, averaging 23 points per game as a senior and amassing more than 1,600 career points.
“Stockton was essential for me,” said Vincent, who still communicates with St. Mary’s coach Ken Green year-round. And when the opportunity with the Stockton Kings came around: “I was eager to rewrite my narrative, rewrite my story, and to make a name for myself.”
Green recalls a game against Moraga-Campolindo, at the time the reigning NorCal runner-up, in which Vincent scored 47 points.
“Gabe was involving teammates and taking shots as they came. All of a sudden, from the second quarter on, he goes nuts,” Green said. “The funny thing was is he didn’t look like he was hogging the ball. He scored almost all of it in the flow of our offense.”
“…I thought he was more than a mid-major college player. As far as potential, he did not have a ceiling because he was so committed and competed all the time.”
That approach, and melding of selflessness with aggression and self-confidence, has powered Vincent from Stockton, to Santa Barbara, Beijing and Miami. It’s the reason he’s fit seamlessly into Miami’s vaunted “Heat Culture.”
Vincent is set to conclude his two-year, $3.4 million contract with Miami with the forthcoming 2022-23 season. He lauded coach Erik Spoelstra and his time in Miami, but knows how uncertain the future is as a pro basketball player.
His offseason goals are both simple and incredibly difficult:
“Come back a better player and go win a championship.”
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