Portland Trail Blazers power forward Noah Vonleh is gradually coming into his own as a player, but there is more on his mind than basketball. At the tender age of 20, he not only carries the responsibility of starting in the NBA, but the memories of a fallen cousin. Salim Fort tragically drowned six years ago, at 15 years-old. The two were very close. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details how the untimely passing affected Vonleh, and what dedication means to him.
Statement from Vonleh via Freeman:
"I pray before every game," he said. "I tell God to watch over me. And then I say, 'No. 21. Salim, I got you. Watch over me in this game. And let's get this W."
"He's basically like my motivation to go out there," Vonleh said. "I'm playing for myself, but I'm also playing to not disappoint him. I'm always representing him and the No. 21."
Fort and a group of friends were swimming in a pond on July 27, 2010, when he found himself struggling. His friends called paramedics when their efforts to save him proved fruitless, but he did not survive. Vonleh's dedication to the game and his life can be traced to the influence and friendship his cousin left behind.
...Vonleh toes the straight and narrow, works his rear end off behind the scenes, strives to become great, in part, for his fallen cousin. Vonleh is slowly growing more comfortable and confident in an NBA uniform and recently has started to emerge with the Blazers, his blend of versatility and untapped potential bubbling to the surface midway through his first season in Portland. And even though Fort might not be at Vonleh's side to enjoy the ride, he's always close in spirit.
That hard work has shown dividends of late, as the second-year forward has scored 11 and 10 points in the last two games; both victories. His teammates, including All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, see his growth and also tremendous potential.
"He's really young," Lillard said. "The way the league is going, people are playing small ball and you've got guys like Draymond Green who can handle the ball, pass the ball, shoot the ball, guard multiple positions; I think Noah can do all those things. He's a good ballhandler. He can become a really good defender. He can shoot the ball better than people know he can. I think if he continues to work, he'll be one of those guys like Draymond Green."
Read the entirety of Freeman's feature here.
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