Trinity Western coach Aaron Muhic likes to call Patrick Vandervelden the Flying Dutchman.

Will Hickey would likely agree.

According to ocean legend, the sight of the Flying Dutchman – a phantom ship that has incurred a variety of tales – is a harbinger of doom.

When, the 6-foot-10 Vandervelden corralled a third-quarter offensive rebound at the elbow, turned and took three quick strides towards the hoop. Hickey – a fifth-year guard with the Lethbridge Pronghorns – stepped into the lane and saw what he wished he wouldn’t have.

The Flying Dutchman took off and Hickey was doomed, seeing a sight few others have ever witnessed. Leaping towards the basket with his right arm extended, Vandervelden barely even noticed Hickey’s presence.

“I took the first dribble and I guess he jumped in to try to take the charge but I didn’t even realize he was there,” he says, recalling his now famous early-December dunk. “I felt him as I was going up, but I just kept going.”

It was a posterizing of impressive proportions. The crowd inside the TWU gymnasium brought the building to life in a way that harkened to the glory days of David E. Enarson Gym. The third-year Abbotsford, B.C. kid had arrived and the fans in attendance exploded in the moment. If his season-long coming out party hadn’t already made him a household name amongst supporters, the dunk did the trick.

Vandervelden, who is as Dutch as they come with all four of his grandparents hailing from the Netherlands, was suddenly a topic of conversation on campus and, on the court, he was a changed player.

“That play was kind of a turning point for his confidence,” Muhic says. “After that, he took off.”

Prior to that early-December weekend series with Lethbridge and “The Dunk,” Vandervelden had been averaging 12 points and 6.5 rebounds per game through TWU’s first eight outings. On that Friday night, he finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds, making a statement the quiet-by-nature graduate of Yale Secondary would never verbalize – “Just try to stop me.” The following night, he put up another 20-point performance.

Since the start of December, he has averaged 14.5 points per game 8.6 rebounds per game. In his first eight games of the 2016-17 campaign, he had just four games in which he hit double-digits in points and never tallied more than nine rebounds in a single contest. Including his back-to-back 20-point efforts against the Pronghorns, Vandervelden has now collected 12 or more points in eight of his last 10 games and has had four double doubles.

“Everything seems to be coming together,” says Vandervelden, who is studying human kinetics. “I feel like I’m making better decisions on the court and I have more confidence.”

It seems it was only a matter of time.

As young as three years old, Vandervelden remembers watching his older siblings play basketball and he would be on the sidelines trying to figure out how to dribble – bouncing the ball until it stopped and then picking it up and starting again and again and again.

With an early growth spurt, he was always the tallest kid in his class and in Grade 4, he found his way onto his first school-based squad at Auguston Traditional Elementary School in Abbotsford.

By the time he made it to Yale for his Grade 9 year, he was already a 6-foot-2 baller with a tidy jumper. He grew three inches by the start of Grade 10 and was already 6-foot-8 prior to Grade 11. At that point in his career, Vandervelden had a niche: He could shoot from mid-range and he could block shots. He didn’t drive the ball and he didn’t venture beyond the 3-point line. But boy, was he ever good at what he did.

In his final year with Yale, he averaged 16 points, 14 rebounds and whopping eight blocks per game.

According to local folklore and Vandervelden’s estimate, he collected as many as 20 blocks in one particular game against Vancouver College at the annual 2014 Terry Fox Legal Beagle Invitational.

If Lethbridge’s Hickey is looking for solace, he could well look to Victoria’s Hassan Abdullah and Hayden Lejeune. If misery truly loves company, the trio could commiserate. They’ve all seen the Flying Dutchman.

In the span of five seconds, Vandervelden authoritatively swatted away offerings from both Vikes in a recent game in Victoria.

“He’s the best shot-blocker I’ve ever coached,” Muhic says without pause. “He likes to set you up defensively for a shot block.”

With 1.3 blocks per game, he is eighth in Canada West. But with at least one block in each of his last seven games and five against Mount Royal Feb. 3, it’s likely just the start for Vandervelden and his burgeoning university career.

Add to that the fact he’s rounding out his game – he’s shooting from 3-point range and driving to the basket with increasing regularity – and Vandervelden, if he hasn’t already, is becoming a matchup nightmare.

“He’s playing really well and starting to almost be an automatic double double, but I think he’s only scratching the surface,” Muhic says. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence. I think if he adds a little bit more grit and toughness, he can be really good.”

Vandervelden came into this year not sure what the season would look like.

“Our coach said I needed to be a big player on this team but I didn’t know exactly how I would fit into that role,” says Vandervelden. “I didn’t think too much about it. I just went out and did what I could do.”

With a newfound versatility and increased strength – Vandervelden prepared for the season by training under the professional eye of former CFLer Matt Chapdelaine, who the son of both Montreal Alouettes coach Jacques Chapdelaine and TWU track and field assistant coach Kim Chapdelaine – Muhic can’t help by salivate at his potential.

“He’s so coachable and he just shows up to work every day,” Muhic says. “These days, we’re trying to figure out ways not to take him off the floor, rather than finding ways to get him on the floor.”

Even Vandervelden didn’t expect the season and that one particular to unfold play as they have.

“I’ve actually surprised myself,” he says. “I never went to the rim before.”

Hickey likely wished he hadn’t figured that out. The Spartan fans in attendance were overjoyed that he did.

After returning to earth, Vandervelden didn’t really know what to do. While his teammates erupted with unbridled glee, he celebrated for a brief moment before stepping to the free throw line.  

Bravado isn’t in his dictionary.

Vandervelden settled in and finished off an old-fashioned three-point play. He got back on defence.
There was work to do at the other end of the floor.

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