Devin Vassell was admittedly torn.
Stay at FSU, and Vassell would get to continue what he had accomplished with his teammates in two years. There was the close connection with his basketball family. And a season that ended without any postseason was an abrupt finish.
Go to the NBA, and Vassell could be fulfilling a life-long dream. And he could be a first-round draft pick.
“It was definitely a hard decision, especially how the season ended,” Vassell said on Thursday afternoon in a conference call with reporters. “Talking to my family, my coaches, we felt like this was the best decision for me. I always wanted to go play basketball in the NBA. I feel like I have to take advantage of the opportunity.”
The opportunity is certainly there, especially after an impressive two-year career. Vassell was immediately thought of as a redshirt candidate in the summer of 2018 – Trent Forrest admitted as much earlier this week, recalling a conversation with Charlton Young in which he told the assistant coach that Vassell would be able to help right away.
Vassell averaged just 4.5 points per game as a freshman but there were moments when he showed what he could offer: an all-around game that featured a smooth 3-pointer but also the ability to drive, distribute and defend.
He showed that in his sophomore season at FSU, leading the team in scoring (12.7 points), rebounding (5.1) and 3-point shooting (41.5 percent). Vassell was also second on the team in steals (42) and second in blocks (29). At either end of the floor, Vassell was impactful.
Beyond the stats, there were the wins and an ACC regular-season title. Vassell, like many of the players, also saw the increase in fan support from students and the community. FSU enjoyed five straight sellout crowds to finish the regular season, and the Seminoles fed off that energy with an undefeated record in 2019-20 at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
“It’s been a great two years,” Vassell said. “I don’t think I ever pictured it like this and how it went. When you look in the stands and there are no open seats and pretty much all of our conference games were sold out. It’s crazy how the culture changed, the atmosphere the last two years. And I’m just lucky and thankful to be a part of it.”
Vassell said he did his best not to think about the NBA possibility during the season. But after the team returned home from the ACC Tournament two weeks ago, Vassell began to discuss his decision with family and coaches.
One of those was a two-hour conversation with coach Leonard Hamilton, who used his extensive network of connections in the NBA to give Vassell feedback about how pro teams viewed him.
“They gave me some information that they had,” Vassell said. “Coach Ham told me about some of the things. It really helped me out.”
Vassell said he is working out with a good friend back home as he prepares for the NBA Draft in June. He leaves FSU with lasting memories of people who were more than teammates.
“We just always were together,” Vassell said. “It was bigger than just basketball for us. Just being able to play with the chip on our shoulder every game. We were the underdog and people weren’t talking about us. We knew we had a good team but we just had to show everybody.”
Fans and media have questioned how FSU will put the pieces together, doing so going into the 2019-20 season after losing six players. And it is happening again now with Forrest, Vassell and Patrick Williams off to the NBA. FSU will also miss Dominik Olejniczak.
Vassell knows the talent that is on the roster and what the team can accomplish next season. The Seminoles do have a deep roster in 2020-21, which includes M.J. Walker, RaiQuan Gray, RayQuan Evans, Malik Osborne, Anthony Polite and Balsa Koprivica.
“We’re the new bloods now,” Vassell said. “They’re going to have something to prove to everybody. It’s just a great coaching staff, they’re going to be able to get everybody better and help everybody out and into their new roles. We have a lot of people on the team that are ready to step up. … It’s not just one person. The team is going to be just as good, even better next year.”
FSU PLAYERS WHO DECLARED EARLY FOR NBA DRAFT
Von Wafer (2005; Second Round, Los Angeles Lakers)
Alexander Johnson (2006; Second Round, Indiana Pacers)
Chris Singleton (2011; First Round, Washington Wizards)
Malik Beasley (2016; First Round, Denver Nuggets)
Jonathan Isaac (2017, First Round, Orlando Magic)
Dwayne Bacon (2017; Second Round, New Orleans Pelicans)
Mfiondu Kabengele (2019; First Round, Los Angeles Clippers)
Devin Vassell (declared his NBA intentions this week)
Patrick Williams (declared his NBA intentions this week)