Gabe Vincent had finally arrived.
He was officially in the NBA after three, whirlwind days of travel.
Vincent’s odyssey began in Sacramento during the wee hours of Wednesday morning and didn’t end until he plopped onto his hotel-room bed in Washington D.C. late Friday night.
The former UCSB basketball star, now on a two-way contract with the Miami Heat, was finally able to exhale and reflect on how he’d gotten there in the first place.
“First of all, it was my love for the game, which has made me extremely goal-driven,” Vincent began. “And then there’s my great support group of family and close friends and coaches and teammates …”
And then his exhale turned into a deep sob.
“… and this little boy.”
Gabe Vincent remembers being as young as Luc Bodden, full of childhood dreams about a future in basketball.
“I was in sixth grade when I really committed to it,” he said. “That’s when I stopped playing all the other sports. I figured I’d see how far this game would take me.”
Luc knew how far. He knew three years ago at age 10, even as he lay dying in a hospital bed.
“Before he passed, he told me I was going to make it … that I was going to make it to the NBA,” Vincent recalled. “His mom said it was ‘one of the last things he told me.’
“That’s been on my mind a lot.”
Luc Bodden was the No. 1 sports fan of Oak Park High School. Neither a long bout with sickle cell anemia nor two bone marrow transplants could keep him from the school’s basketball games, decked out in full Eagles’ gear.
The players would fist-bump him before every game and hug him afterwards, win or lose.
His allegiance spread to the Gauchos when former Oak Park star J.D. Slajchert started suiting up for UCSB during the fall of 2014.
“He always brought people together, that was the beauty of him,” Slajchert said after Luc’s death two years later. “He was the beating heart of the Oak Park community.”
And Slajchert got Gabe Vincent’s heart to beat along.
“I met Luc through J.D. during my freshman year,” Vincent said. “He’d come to some of our games, and I wound up getting really close to his family … to his parents and sister.
“We’ve stayed close ever since. Whenever I get to L.A., I make sure we get together. I consider them family.”
Personal relationships are what make Vincent tick. His father Franklyn, the head of a foster family agency in Merced and a part-time teacher at Cal State Stanislaus, and mother Cynthia made every Gaucho game, home and away.
Gabe can still hear his father’s unrelenting chant cascade from the upper reserved section of the Thunderdome: “De-fense, Gau-chos! De-fense!”
“They were in Hawaii on vacation when I gave them the news,” Vincent said. “They were pretty excited for me. I’m not sure when they’ll be able to get out here to see me play, but I’m sure they will.”
Vincent actually made his Saturday night debut with the Heat organization by playing for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, its G-League affiliate. Those players under a two-way contract are allowed to spend 45 days with the parent NBA team. Vincent’s prorated time with Miami for the rest of the season is 26 days.
He has no idea when Miami will call.
“I just got here,” he said with a laugh.
Vincent earned his shot at the NBA with a jumper that is as straight-and-narrow as his personal life. He set UCSB’s career record for three-pointers with 243 and ranks 10th on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,441 points.
He remained steadfast despite a major knee injury which sidelined him for part of his junior year, condemning UCSB to a 6-22 season — the most defeats in school history.
“That was tough,” Vincent said. “It put a hiccup into a lot of things for me. But there are ups and downs with everything.”
He bounced back to earn second-team All-Big West Conference honors as a senior, leading UCSB to a 23-9 season. It was the biggest turnaround in the NCAA that year.
Vincent was turned back around last year by a thumb injury requiring surgery and a pulled hamstring muscle. The injuries restricted him to just 24 games in his rookie season with the G-League’s Stockton Kings.
He set back out on the comeback trail last summer by playing at the FIBA World Cup in China for the Nigerian National Team. He was eligible to play since his father was born in that country.
“It was a long summer but an amazing experience,” said Vincent, who averaged 11.4 points per game in the tournament. “It was good to compete a lot like that, especially representing a country in games that had a lot of meaning.”
Nigeria “underachieved,” he said, by not reaching the medal rounds, although it did recover to win its last three games. That included an 86-73 victory over host China to qualify for this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“It was a wild game, man!” Vincent said. “That was an awesome experience.”
He met several of his Nigerian relatives last summer at his brother Ben’s wedding.
“I think they were happy to see our success,” he said. “Nigeria as a whole was happy that we qualified.”
The long summer continued right into fall when Vincent returned to his hometown Stockton Kings, an affiliate of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.
Vincent leads the G-League with 88 three-pointers and is sixth in scoring average at 23.4 points per game. He’s shooting 46.9% overall and 41.2% from the three-point line.
“It was tough battling through all the injuries, but the staff over in Stockton and Sacramento continued to believe in me,” Vincent said. “They kept me on, and that gave me confidence during off season.
“A lot of good has come from it, so I owe them a lot of thanks.”
The greatest good came when he caught the eye of the Miami Heat during last month’s G-League Showcase in Las Vegas. Team executives decided to act after hearing that two other NBA teams were about to offer Vincent a contract.
The news of Vincent’s NBA contract spread quickly throughout Gaucholand.
“I’ve been in touch with a lot of former teammates, like Al (Williams),” he said, “and even some of the older guys like Orlando (Johnson) and (James) Nunnally.”
All three have played in the NBA. Vincent will soon make it four Gauchos in the last four years.
He may have been the longest shot of all, but one of his youngest fans always knew it was a slam dunk.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org