Ever since Philly native Brad Wanamaker got to Europe, his goal has been on getting his shot in the NBA. In the first of a series of articles looking at players who have jumped from Europe to the NBA this off-season, Emmet Ryan on how Wanamaker got his chance with the Boston Celtics by not dwelling on what he didn’t have
This is not a young rookie. Brad Wanamaker is 29 and the Boston Celtics is ninth stop as a pro. The mistake a casual observer would make from that is that Danny Ainge has signed a journeyman to fill out the roster on a cheap contract. Wanamaker moved from club to club in Europe because he couldn’t slow down, he had to keep climbing.
The Philly Bull’s road to the NBA is one where he had to keep moving to get where he needed to be. From failing clubs to a resurrection job through two upstarts and then a powerhouse before finally getting over to Boston.
It began at a struggling Teramo in Italy (it went under a year after Wanamaker left) before he went to Forli (which went under three years after Wanamaker left) before going to the Austin Toros (before they were the Austin Spurs) and then finally to a club that still exists as we know it with Limoges in France for a season. He’d jump back to Serie A with Pistoia, a reliable spot, for a year before the acceleration kicked in.
Andrea Trinchieri headed up the resurgence of Brose Bamberg and Wanamaker was a massive piece of his operation. He brought the American over to the Bundesliga in his first season and the impact was immediate. After losing the German title to Bayern Munich a year prior, having won the previous four championships, Wanamaker was finals MVP as Bamberg took the crown and returned to Euroleague.
A stronger follow-up season, where he won season MVP and Bamberg flirted with the Euroleague playoffs, and that essentially took him out of the Bamberg pay-grade. Off to Darussafaka he went where he’d still be the guy but he’d have more big pieces around him.
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That season we saw a different edge to Wanamaker. Plenty of guys have come across the Atlantic and been able to shine when helping a club that’s domestically strong but has low expectations at a European level. Trevor Mbakwe jumps to mind as a guy who looked ready to bust out massively after 2015 before everything quietened down.
Similarly, there have been lots of players who have blazed a trail through two seasons before the focus faded as they didn’t get their look at the trip to the big show. By the time he landed in Istanbul to join Darussafaka, he was 27 and already been pro for five years. That’s a prime time to earn big in Europe but far from ideal for getting the look from the NBA.
Wanamaker went to work and then helped make Luka Doncic cry as Darussafaka overcame a rocky road through the regular season to make the Euroleague playoffs and give Real Madrid a serious fright in the playoffs.
It was his comfort being the guy on a team with expectations that made Wanamaker look a different proposition that season. He’d been on the sweet plucky underdog story with zero expectations outside of local affairs, now he was playing for a side that was essentially a soulless business with few fans and operated on a model that expected targets to be hit. It was a cold hard basketball outfit that proved terribly fun to watch at times while also delivering some clinical play.
During the exodus of Euro based ballers last summer, Wanamaker was heavily mooted to make the jump but ended up joining Fenerbahce, the reigning Euroleague champions. He got them back to the title game, albeit a losing effort, after they had lost both Bogdan Bogdanovic and Ekpe Udoh to the NBA. There was a Turkish league crown too but what the season really showed was how rounded a player Wanamaker had become.
The Celtics are getting a well-rounded baller. Athletically he’s got the gifts for some bullying defence but it’s his offence that will garner eyeballs. Wanamaker has grown into a combo-guard in the more likeable sense of the term and not a guy who is not enough of either spot.
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He can be the creator when needs be but more importantly he works well both making his own shot and working off the ball too. At 6’4” and 210lbs, he’s got the body to bring power when he wants but doesn’t lean on it. The 7 seasons in Europe have taught him to be a thinking man’s baller who can trust himself without taking excessive risks.
The goal from the off for Wanamaker has been to get his spot on a NBA roster. The difference between him and those who had the same gifts but didn’t make it is essentially focus. There was an awareness throughout the stages of his career that to get to the next level, he had to get the job done at the level he was at. His arc reads like a college coach’s dream, not least because coming out of Pittsburgh at college level the term hard-nosed gets added as an expectation almost immediately.
The grind is certainly there but what will make Wanamaker stand out to Celtics fans is that he’s not working just for the sake of doing work. Anyone can log the wild hours in the gym and clock up reps. Wanamaker’s spent the past 7 years making sure that work has purpose, a logical series of goals. The end product is why the work happens and he’s ready for his chance to deliver.
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