Former Wharton High basketball star Shawn Vanzant still can't believe how fortunate he is.
During his time at Butler University, he played in the NCAA men's tournament all four years and in his final two seasons, helped Butler reach the national championship game. The Bulldogs lost to Duke in the final seconds of the 2010 championship and lost to Connecticut this past season.
"That's always your goal (to play for a national title)," Vanzant said. "I didn't think it would happen two years in a row."
And it's only going to get better for Vanzant.
On Wednesday, Vanzant signed with the top Finnish league, Korisliiga, with the Korihait club of Uusikaupunki.
"Shawn is in great shape physically and will likely play point guard when the season opens in late September,'' said Tom Westerholm, coach and GM of Korihait, in a press release. "I am happy to get Shawn for our team. I really believe he can help us be successful, and I believe I can help him start his professional career.''
Vanzant had attended Australia's National Basketball League camp in Las Vegas in June, in hopes of pursuing a professional career in that country.
"Playing in the NBA is the ultimate goal, but just playing professionally is one of my all-time goals," Vanzant said.
Matt Krejci, who signed Vanzant to his Ohio-based agency, MK Sports & Entertainment LLC, after the season, said the 6-foot-1 guard could possibly get drafted into the NBA Development League this November.
"He's extremely strong and he's a great defender," Krejci said. "Butler being in the final four the past two years, people overseas immediately know where Butler is. They're on the national stage and they know Shawn held his own against some of the top players. He's very versatile and very athletic."
This past season, Vanzant averaged 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game and shot 44 percent from the field. Vanzant graduated from Butler in May with a degree in sociology and has since returned to Tampa where he has been training, including sessions with his former high school coach, Wharton's Tommy Tonelli.
"He looks good," Tonelli said. "I'm very proud of him. Mainly (we work on) just getting shots off and repetition (in addition to) some footwork stuff."
As a senior at Wharton, Vanzant led the Wildcats to a 29-2 record and to within one win of the state final four. Tonelli said Vanzant can become the first boys basketball player from Wharton to have a legitimate pro career. He also said the school has discussed retiring his jersey.
"He's worked hard and put himself in a great position," Tonelli said.
During the 2010 NCAA tournament, Vanzant's life story made national headlines. As a junior at Wharton, Vanzant was faced with the possibility of relocating to Cleveland when his father, who struggled with diabetes, became financially unable to support him and his older brother, whom he was living with, was arrested. A family in Tampa, the Littons, took him in and cared for him. It was deemed the basketball version of the movie "The Blind Side."
"He's got a lot left to put in the story," Krejci said.
"He makes people want to cheer for him," Tonelli said.
After basketball, Vanzant said he would like to pursue coaching, possibly at the college level.
Of all the big games in college, however, he said he'll simply remember the journey.
"Just being there with my teammates and coaches," he said.