LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- NBA All-Star Pascal Siakam isn’t the only Toronto Raptor with ties to the New Mexico State University basketball program, as one of Siakam's teammates can credit some success to the man running it.
Fred Van Vleet didn’t go to NMSU but he played for Aggies Coach Chris Jans, when Jans was Gregg Marshall’s right hand man as an assistant at Wichita State in 2013 and 2014.
To Van Vleeet, Jans specialized in one aspect in particular.
“Coach Jans, that’s my guy man, he’s a brilliant basketball mind," says Van Vleet, now in his fourth season with the Toronto Raptors. "He was like our defensive coordinator.”
Coming off an unprecedented Final Four run as #9 seed in 2013, Wichita State went 35-0 in 2014. It was the best ever start in Division I Basketball at the time.
The 2014 season ended in heartbreak in an NCAA Tournament Classic against Kentucky, when Van Vleet's three-pointer bounced harmlessly off the rim as time expired.
Now a head coach with NMSU, Coach Jans still reflects on his Wichita days when looking for motivation.
"Certainly it's helped me now that I'm a head coach to be able to fall upon those experiences," says Jans, entering his fourth year with New Mexico State. "Not just from Gregg Marshall, but the guys that I worked with, and certainly those players that we had when we were making those runs."
Defense was the Shockers' calling card. And Chris Jans may have been the coordinator, but remembers Van Vleet as the quarterback at the point of the attack.
“In all my years of coaching, 28 years, when he would come off the floor, I would normally get in Coach Marshall’s ear with a thought or two," says Jans of Van Vleet.
"And sometimes I would ask Fred, 'Hey man what do you think?' There haven’t been many players that I’m asking questions about game decisions, adjustments during the game.”
But in Fred’s book, what he gained from Jans he still carries with him in the NBA.
"He really taught me a lot about scheming and game-planning and how to tune into a guys' strengths and weaknesses," says Van Vleet of his old assistant coach. "And that fiery competitiveness that he brought to work everyday.”
Today Jans brings that fire to the Aggies in Las Cruces, and Van Vleet to the NBA where he burst onto the scene in last year’s league Finals.
The un-drafted kid from Wichita State has opened a lot of eyes on the national stage, but Jans could always see the passion in his former point guard.
“Fred is special. Fred has internal belief and confidence through the roof."
"He believed he was going to live this life, where most people around him never would have dreamt it.”
But if you ask Fred it’s less of a shock to see his old coach thriving at NMSU.
“Obviously I see him doing his thing and it’s nothing surprising for me," says Van Vleet of Jans's success with the Aggies. "Coach Jans keep killing it man! Love you brother, I’ll hit you soon.”