On the afternoon the Toronto Raptors opened their Summer League schedule in Las Vegas, some key members of the organization were missing. Back in Toronto, president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster were holding a press conference to announce the re-signing of Fred VanVleet, the team’s major success story from the 2016 Summer League. Then an undrafted free agent, VanVleet played his way to a small guarantee on a training camp invite. So far, that has paid off for both sides— VanVleet is a crucial part of the Raptors’ rotation, was a Sixth Man of the Year contender this season, and this summer, the sides agreed to a two-year, $18-million contract.
And while VanVleet wasn’t physically at the team’s Vegas opener — he’d arrive later that day, coming out in support for games two and three — his story sat thick in the air for Rawle Alkins.
“The Raptors, when they called me on draft night, they explained to me how Fred VanVleet had the same thing,” Alkins explained in Vegas. “He went undrafted, he showcased himself in the Summer League, and he proved that he was ready for the NBA. I think he just signed a big contract this year. You know, they kinda look at me on that type of level, and at the same time, I’m grateful for any opportunity and any opportunity that presents itself.”
Alkins is in Vegas hoping to kick-start his career on the same trajectory. With the chips down after going undrafted, Alkins has little recourse but to bet on himself, to borrow from a VanVleet shirt (and hat, and backpack, and…).
This is an unexpected start to his NBA journey, to say the least. Alkins fully expected to be selected on draft night in June, having been projected as a potential second-rounder when he tested the waters as a freshman in 2017 and a potential first-rounder in 2018. What, exactly, kept that from coming to fruition is a little unclear, though a Jones fracture that cost him games early in the year and may have contributed to his offensive production plateauing was likely a contributing factor. So, too, is that Alkins’ primary asset — his energy — is more of an in-game tool than one that thrives in a workout showcase.
Whatever the case, Alkins was unfazed despite the draft night disappointment. He says he locked himself in the gym and stayed off social media in the days that followed, but outside of a dose of humility, Alkins’ attitude changed little. Where VanVleet has his Bet on Yourself mantra, Alkins has kept himself steady with an interesting perspective on the highs and lows of basketball life. It is, at the same time, a tad nihilistic and wise beyond his basketball experience.
“That’s the thing: Expectations lead to disappointments,” Alkins said. “So with me, I’m just gonna try to stay even-keeled. You know, never get too high, never get too low. Play my game, just try to play the best I can, and the rest is history. I’m always motivated. I guess you could say it’s a humbling experience. I didn’t really expect that. But when it happened, it’s on to the next step. You can’t just think about it throughout the process, you have to just keep moving forward.”