Undrafted, oft-injured Gabe Vincent looked like a long shot to make the NBA, no matter how many long shots he’d made for the UC Santa Barbara basketball team.
But a dying, 10-year-old boy called it a slam dunk.
Vincent, the Gauchos’ record-setting three-point shooter, still believed in his hoop dreams despite a rookie season in the G League fraught with a torn-up thumb, a pulled hamstring and the worst season of his basketball life.
“It was a constant struggle to find rhythm, my role, and build an identity,” he said of his 2018-2019 season with the minor-league Stockton Kings.
But he also clung to the words that little Luc Bodden had spoken from his death bed six years ago when Vincent was just a fledgling UCSB sophomore.
“Before he passed, he told me I was going to make it … that I was going to make it to the NBA,” he recalled. “It was one of the last things he told me.”
Vincent, a 6-foot-3 guard, opened his third season with the Miami Heat on Wednesday, a surprisingly key player for one of the NBA’s top teams. He’s averaging 9.3 points and 3.0 assists through the Heat’s first three games.
The Gospel According to Luc
Vincent never forgot the little fan from Oak Park nor the faith he projected. He made a point to honor little Luc recently with a company he founded with former UCSB teammate J.D. Slajchert called Allergic To Missing LLC.
“Allergic To Missing is a mindset, an attitude, a way of life that is not just about seizing opportunity but of overcoming obstacles,” Vincent said. “We started out with some clothes but it was never really meant to be a clothing brand.
“It’s more about being back out in the community and helping others.”
Slajchert would shout “allergic to missing” anytime either Gaucho got on a hot shooting streak during a workout or game.
“He had shared the phrase with me and immediately I loved it,” Vincent said. “I saw the possibility of what this could be and how it applied to so many different walks of life.”
Luc Bodden had been the No. 1 sports fan for Slajchert’s alma mater, Oak Park High School, several years earlier. Neither a grueling battle with sickle cell anemia nor two bone marrow transplants could keep him from the Ventura County school’s basketball games, dressed in full Eagles’ regalia.
He would fist-bump Slajchert and the rest of Oak Park’s players before every game and then hug them afterward, win or lose. He brought that devotion to UCSB when Slajchert enrolled there during the autumn of 2014.
“He always brought people together, that was the beauty of him,” Slajchert said after Luc’s death in 2016 at age 10. “He was the beating heart of the Oak Park community.”
Vincent’s heart soon thumped to that same rhythm.
“I met Luc through J.D. during my freshman year,” he 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 … I consider them family.”
Home Is Where The Heart Is
He always had a heart of Gaucho gold. Bob Williams, his coach through his first three seasons at UCSB, noticed how Vincent’s apartment became a refuge for several of his teammates.
“If they couldn’t make rent, if they couldn’t do what they needed to do, Gabe would take them in,” he said.
It was how he was raised by his parents, Cynthia and Franklyn, in the San Joaquin Valley town of Modesto. As a youngster, he once reacted after seeing that another child was wearing nothing but a pair of baggy shorts.
“Gabriel took off his shoes and handed them to the kid and just walked away barefoot,” Cynthia said.
Joe Pasternack wondered how much he’d get out of him when he took over as UCSB’s coach before the 2017-2018 season. Vincent had undergone major reconstructive surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee just a few months earlier. But he endured an arduous rehabilitation that got him ready for the season opener in November.
“That was tough,” Vincent said of the knee injury. “It put a hiccup into a lot of things for me. But there are ups and downs with everything.”
He wound up earning All-Big West Conference honors for a team that tied the school record with 23 victories.
“He was the rock behind that team,” Pasternack said. “He’s so mature beyond his years.
“If anybody could’ve done what he’s done, it’s him, because of who he is on an everyday basis.”
Be Like Mike
Vincent, who ranks 10th on UCSB’s all-time scoring list with 1,441 points, set the school record for career three-pointers with 243. He surpassed the 241 that Michael Bryson had finished with in 2016 by hitting a pair of threes in a win against Cal Poly during the 2018 Big West Tournament.
His first call afterward was to his “buddy.”
“Gotcha!” he shouted into the phone when Bryson answered.
Vincent thought his shooting prowess would be his ticket to the NBA. The Heat took notice during his 2019-2020 season with the Stockton Kings when he averaged 20.9 points per game while leading the G League with an average of 4.3 three-pointers per game.
Miami signed him to a two-way NBA contract, assigning him to the Sioux Falls Skyforce, its G League team in Iowa.
“Growing up, Gabe’s favorite team was always the Miami Heat,” his mom said. “He had their T-shirts and ball caps.”
Vincent made his allegiance clear when his agent alerted him to the interest being shone by several NBA teams.
“He said, ‘We’ve got a couple of deals on the table,’” Vincent said. “He mentioned Miami as one of the teams.
“I was like, ‘You’d better call Miami back immediately! … I don’t know why you’re talking to me! Let’s get that done!’”
Rising In The Bubble
His stock with the Heat rose during the 2020-2021 season even though the G League schedule had been canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. His two-way contract allowed him to spend the entire NBA season with the Heat inside the league’s bubble facility in Florida.
“Having everything right there on site, I was able to work on my game and get better,” Vincent said.
It’s where the Heat converted him from a wing shooter into a point guard. He emerged into a key player last season, averaging 8.7 points and 3.1 assists per game.
Coach Erik Spoelstra was especially impressed with how he developed into a lock-down defender “in terms of his grittiness, his toughness, his ability to guard multiple positions.”
Vincent explained his evolution this way: “When the coach approaches you and says, ‘This is what we need from you for this team,’ you can either fight it and not play, or you can assimilate and say, ‘OK, this is what needs to be done.’”
He got it done well enough to earn a spot last season in Miami’s regular rotation.
“He’s just pesky as hell on the defensive end, making it tough for whoever he’s lined up against,” Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler said. “He doesn’t back down. We all respect that. We all love him for that.”
Back Home at The Thunderdome
Vincent, who turned 26 in June, had the option on the second year of his $1.8 million contract exercised by the Heat this summer. He was exercising at the time with the Gauchos who’d filled his shoes at UCSB. He even addressed them during one of their team meetings.
UCSB, which will open its season at the Thunderdome on Nov. 7 against San Francisco State, has been picked as the Big West favorite in a vote of the league’s coaches.
Vincent paid special attention to the team’s sophomore point guard, Ajay Mitchell, who became the first Gaucho to win the Big West Freshman of the Year Award since Vincent turned the trick in 2015.
“He talked about how to be a pro, and about how hard it is to be in the league and stay in the league,” Mitchell said. “He also talked about our team and how we could win.
“He’s a great guy who worked his ass off to become great. He knows what he’s talking about.”
Just like the boy he once knew named Luc.
— Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook. The opinions expressed are his own.