Patience paid off for Blaise Vespe.
The 2021 graduate of Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti High School had received some college basketball offers, but none seemed big enough to satisfy the expectations of the 6-foot-7 forward. That’s when Vespe made decisions that would shape the rest of his playing career that eventually landed him at Florida Gulf Coast University, where he is now seeing the floor as a freshman.
“I thought I deserved better offers,” Vespe said. “The offers I had were great. Some were Division I but there are different levels. I was looking to play at a higher level. I just had to bet on myself.”
After a whirlwind senior year of high school that saw some of his season get wiped out by the pandemic, Vespe decided to put the brakes on college immediately after graduation and head to prep school at IMG Academy in Florida, where he would round out his skills and showcase his game in front of more eyeballs before taking another shot at college recruitment. It was also a chance to step out of the shadows as Vespe was asked to be a role player on an extremely talented team at Neumann-Goretti, graduating alongside college-bound players like Hysier Miller, Zaakir Williamson and Chris Evans. Junior year was even more stacked with Jordan Hall, Hakim Byrd and Cameron Young in the lineup. Vespe averaged 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during his junior year, but felt there was more to give.
“We were so good,” Vespe recalled. “We were top-ten in the country during my junior year. I had to play a very specific role in playing great defense, taking charges and scoring when needed. But I was the fourth or fifth option on that team. I wouldn’t take it back for nothing, but I felt like I wasn’t able to show everything I could do.”
Vespe headed south to IMG but it wasn’t the first time he made a significant choice at a fork in the road. He spent his freshman year of high school at St. Augustine Preparatory School in Richland, New Jersey, not far from his home in Franklinville. But Vespe’s trainer, who was an assistant on Neumann-Goretti’s girls team at the time, helped push Vespe to Philadelphia when the big man dreamed of playing in the Philadelphia Catholic League.
“Playing in the PCL was something I always wanted to do,” Vespe said. “Obviously the PCL’s level of competition is nothing like South Jersey. I wanted to play against the best competition possible.”
It just took a 45-minute car ride to get there every day. His mother, Debbie, served as chauffeur for a year and a half until Blaise got his driver’s license and the family rented an apartment in South Philly to help with the burdening commute.
“My mom drove me. She’s the best,” Vespe said. “Me and my mom have a very strong relationship. We talk all the time. Some days I was up and ready for the car ride and ready to talk. Other days I needed to go back to sleep and she let me do it.”
It was one of many talks the close family had about Blaise’s future, especially when it came to choosing sports. The obvious route would have been baseball as his father, Will Vespe, played at the University of Miami before getting drafted by the Minnesota Twins and played professional ball in the Cleveland Indians organization. But Blaise hit a three-inch growth spurt before eighth grade when he reached 6 feet 4 before high school.
“My whole family is a baseball family,” Vespe said. “My dad played professionally. My grand-pop and uncles and cousins all did something with baseball. I started out trying every sport, baseball, football and soccer growing up. I was actually pretty good at baseball. But I chose basketball.”
Will Vespe also knows a thing or two about hoops. He was a 1,000-point scorer at Gloucester Catholic High School, The 1985 grad is listed with 1,375 points on a banner in the gymnasium, which is currently second all-time in school history. But the elder Vespe still had hopes of his son playing baseball.
“Since sixth grade, my dad always told me to figure out what sport I liked best and just have fun,” Vespe said. “I told him basketball was the way I wanted to go and he was a little disappointed because he wanted me to play baseball like him. But he’s helped me a lot throughout this whole process and the mentality of being an athlete. He taught me how to be relentless and never give up. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Now he’s coming off the bench for the Eagles who are 9-3 after a 71-58 victory against St. Bonaventure on Dec. 16.
“I’m super excited,” Vespe said. “Our team is very, very good this year. We’re shocking some people. We beat USC already and we’re senior- and junior-heavy. For me to get this opportunity and make an impact on a team means a lot to me.”