Gabe Vincent
Gabe Vincent, who set a three-point scoring record while starring for UCSB, is now making the most of his opportunity with the Miami Heat. In fact, on Thursday, it was a slam dunk. (UC Santa Barbara illustration)
Mark Patton

Gabe Vincent of the Miami Heat is more likely to set a screen than star on the screen of a TV set.

But a five-second sequence that was replayed nationally on Thursday’s sports broadcasts showed him rebounding his own missed three-pointer, surging forward with a one-bounce dribble, and then soaring to the first slam dunk of his professional career.

That highlight reel, however, doesn’t tell the real story of the 25-year-old guard from UC Santa Barbara’s Class of 2018. Vincent’s value in the NBA is rooted in how grounded he’s remained in times both high and low.

Three months earlier, Vincent’s reaction had been more stoic than ecstatic when the team upgraded his two-way, G League contract to a regular NBA pact. When asked about the party that must have followed, he shrugged and said, “I don’t think I really celebrated.”

“I just went back and worked out,” he explained. “I had to work on my body since my summer was kind of long this year. There wasn’t necessarily a ‘Let’s go to dinner and go crazy and get a bottle of wine.’”

Plenty of glasses in Miami clinked with cheers to salute his season-high, 18-point performance Thursday.

“The kid can play, man,” said Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler. “He is so confident and comfortable. He guards and he does so many things well.

“He knows where the ball has to go and he is a hell of a guy. A great teammate. I think he is going to definitely change the game for us a lot this year.”

With Tyler Herro sidelined, Vincent was asked to play 25 minutes during the Heat’s 112-97 victory over the Washington Wizards. The win elevated Miami into a first-place tie with the Brooklyn Nets in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

Vincent didn’t get carried away, however, when a reporter asked, “What was that like, you having to become Boy Wonder tonight instead of Tyler?”

“I don’t think in any way I was trying to replace Tyler,” he replied. “Tyler is a hell of a talent, extremely skilled.

“I was just trying to make the most out of my minutes, be aggressive where it was called for, take open shots and just try to make the right basketball play every time down.”

He paused a moment and added, “And, definitely, it WAS my first career dunk, for sure.”

Vincent set a career record at UCSB with 243 three-pointers. He graduated as the Gauchos’ ninth-leading scorer of all-time with 1,441 points. Two years later, he averaged 20.9 points in the NBA’s developmental G League while shooting 40.3% from three.

But he’s settled into more of a facilitating role this season as a backup to six-time All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

“I was shooting the ball more in college and in the G League,” Vincent said. “I can be aggressive. I showed some of that this summer, as well, playing off the ball (at the Olympic Games for Nigeria, the native country of his father, Franklyn).

“But we’ve got guys who are talented here and some guys who do that better than I do, plain and simple, so why not put them in a better situation to do so?”

Vincent, who played just 9½ minutes per game in Miami’s first 11 games this season, has averaged 26.3 in this week’s three games leading up to Saturday’s return contest in Washington. He averaged 12.0 points in those three — all wins — while shooting 50% from three (7-for-14).

“He stayed the course, didn’t get caught up in anything that could distract him,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He prepared and was ready for his moment, and he’s produced.

“He had a great summer … and I think you’re seeing the result of a lot of work and health.”

Vincent did have to pull himself out of a major shooting slump, having missed all 11 of his previous three-pointers in a span that covered 10 games.

“Obviously, I’ve put a lot of work into my game,” he explained. “It’s nice that it’s finally paying off under the big lights, but it was a matter of time.

“I don’t think I ever lost faith in who I was. I know who I’ve been my entire career and how I’ve been able to shoot the ball, so it’s nice to see it go in. It’s just a credit to the staff and my teammates for not losing faith in me, either.”

Former UCSB coach Bob Williams marveled at Vincent’s maturity after recruiting him out of Stockton’s St. Mary’s High School.

“He doesn’t even know he’s a freshman,” he said at the time. “He’s a man of no wasted words, and his game is efficient like that, too.”

His mother, Cynthia Vincent, explained the youngest of her three sons this way: “He’s my baby, but he’s always been an old soul.”

The coaches of the Big West Conference voted Vincent as the league’s Freshman of the Year in 2015. He tore a knee ligament during his junior year but impressed Joe Pasternack, UCSB’s new coach, with how diligently he worked to return for his senior season.

“He’s our toughest kid, I think,” Pasternack said during the Gauchos’ record-setting, 23-win season. “He’s our best hustle player. He’s our best competitor.”

And then Pasternack made a prophetic declaration: “Gabe will make a lot of money playing professional basketball.”

Vincent had to ride out a few more bumps to get there. His first season in the G League was fraught with more injuries. He needed surgery after tearing a ligament in his thumb during a preseason scrimmage with his hometown Stockton Kings.

“I didn’t really play my first game until the (G League) Showcase,” Vincent said. “And then I hurt my hamstring, and it was a constant struggle to find rhythm, my role, build an identity in the NBA within this league.

“People are quick to label you. And so going into that summer of 2019, and then coming into my second year in the G League and finding success, that was just an amazing feat of perseverance, I think.”

He won the G League’s Most Improved Player Award. But more important, he also won the affections of the Miami Heat, an organization that has taken chances on other undrafted grinders such as Duncan Robinson and Max Strus.

“I think they put a lot of time, energy and effort into developing guys,” Vincent said. “And to take that a step further, I think they put a lot of time, effort energy and into their scouting department, finding guys. They’re looking for guys who match their organization.”

The club’s “culture,” as he put it, was a perfect fit for him.

“A lot of it naturally just matches what I believe in and what I do, and how I move day-to-day,” he explained. “While some people might think the task asked of us is crazy or too demanding or too militant in some ways, that’s just how I prefer to move naturally, anyway.

“There might be some people who struggle with what we do, but I think the type of guys they get and find success, it’s just part of who they are.”

It has meant dealing with adjustments. The team altered his shot to facilitate a quicker release. It played no small part in his slow start to this season.

“I think anytime you change something, there is a process of that change to come all the way through,” Vincent said. “For me, a lot of it was just keeping the ball closer to my body, getting the ball out faster, which in turn would make my shot quicker and make it more consistent, more repeatable.

“There have been ups and downs, and I’ve been dealing with that. It might have been me overthinking it at times. I would definitely say it feels more natural now, and it feels like I’m at a pretty good place with it.”

And on Thursday, that place even included the rarified air above the rim at Miami’s FTX Arena.

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook. The opinions expressed are his own.

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at The opinions expressed are his own.