November 2, 2014

Safin: "I'm a Wildcat"

Kevin McCarthy

Whoever offered that "youth is wasted on the young" never met Vinnie Safin. Make that Vinnie Safin, newest Chico State Wildcat, big time shooter and distinguished student.

photo of Vinnie Safin

The 6-foot-4 Rocklin High guard recently announced the casting of his lot with Coach Greg Clink and one of the booming but still underrated basketball programs in northern California. The Wildcats finished 19-11 in 2012-13 and jumped to 25-8 last season, Four integral players were lost to graduation but a solid core returns and Safin will be one of the better marksmen on the squad once he arrives.

The reasons for Safin going with Chico are multiple.

“The coaching staff was very inviting as was the hospitality of the team, everyone shook my hand on my visit,” he explained. “I liked the culture of the school and a Chico business degree is one of the best in the nation.”

Two other elements also left a deep impression.

“On my visit, I got up at 6 a.m. to watch a weightlifting session. The guys thanked me for coming and I could see the pride while watching them lift.”

He added, “The way the coaches ran a 45-minute practice -- it was so intense. I turned to my parents and said, ‘wow, I'm tired just from watching them.’ My sense is it was kind of like a brotherhood, a family.”

Regarding what the Wildcats will be getting, Rocklin High Coach Casey Cutts said, “Vinnie is a great kid and will be a tremendous asset. He's a tremendous knockdown shooter from anywhere on the court—it's been exciting to watch him develop. He is always looking for what to do to get the team better. He came to me with the idea of committing early, it was his idea and desire to not [have his status] be a distraction during the season. In my mind, he did it for his teammates. I couldn't be prouder.”

Safin understands that he'll be used as a Wildcat wing/shooting guard as Rashad Parker, Amir Carraway, Sean Park and Giordano Estrada—the top four long distance shooters on the team from last season—have graduated.

“They have one guy (Carraway) playing in Germany and another in Great Britain (Park) and want me to fill the role they played in a few years.”

However, Safin didn't emerge from the womb as a sharpshooter. He was tall for his age, taller than his teammates and was therefore positioned early on at center. Outside of the paint, he was not an offensive threat. But he stopped gaining height despite projections to end up at 6-foot-8 or so and necessity spurred further skill development.

“I met a trainer who developed Steve Nash's shot and began working on my shooting. I've taken over 100,000 shots since then, 24,500 just this past summer,” Safin recalled. Because of that position switch, former Duke star shooter J.J. Redick, now of the Los Angeles Clippers, became a role model of sorts.

Safin also employed video to hone his technique and release and continues doing so. “There's a web site called Synergy that has film of NBA and college games where you can look at teams, players, offenses, specific moves and shots and that's really been helpful in me getting better.”

It would be remiss not to also note another side of Safin. He is over the top academically, having posted a 4.0 grade point average as a freshman, 4.2 as a sophomore and 4.1 in his junior year. Safin is looking to major in business and economics field and Chico offers a project management program that really intrigues him, especially so because of a number of standing job offers upon graduation.

As for his best basketball moment, it took place during his sophomore year. “Running out of the tunnel at ARCO in the section quarterfinals, with all the parents, cheerleaders and big crowd plus the Washington head coach and a UCLA assistant coach there—it doesn't get any better.”

But 2,000 seat Acker gymnasium on a Saturday night Wildcat home basketball game is going to give the ARCO experience a run for the money.