Brad Wanamaker takes a second to chew on the question.
“Ragù,” the Celtics guard says, when asked about the staple he misses the most from his time playing in Italy.
“It’s not so heavy,” Wanamaker told Boston.com. “That’s the crazy thing. We take Italian dishes in America and put a lot of sauce and a lot of cheese and stuff. Theirs is so simple, but that home recipe just tastes amazing.”
Wanamaker, who played in Europe for seven years, spent time with Teramo, Forli, and Pistoia in Italy near the start of his professional career. Italy was his favorite spot in the journey, which also featured pit stops in France, Turkey, and Germany, where he was teammates with Daniel Theis.
He got comfortable playing overseas, eventually adjusting to the rule changes, the lifestyle, and the competition and making a name for himself as a player. Even so, there was still something missing.
“Coming out of college, you think you’re ready for the NBA,” Wanamaker said. “We’re only as good as we think we are, but going over there helped me develop my all-around game and become a leader. I became a big-time player and improved my outside shot. I had a pretty successful career over there and made pretty good money.”
Wanamaker, who grew up in Philadelphia and starred at the University of Pittsburgh, thought he could stick in the NBA right away. Despite a stint in the D-League with the Austin Toros in 2012, he didn’t play in any NBA games. Suddenly, his late-20s rolled around and it still hadn’t happened.
“I always thought I was ready, but looking back on it, I wasn’t,” Wanamaker admits. “It was a humbling experience for me going over there.”
He even acknowledged he lost hope of making it back.
“Of course,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was losing hope in a bad way.”
The last couple years, he had verbal agreements with a few NBA franchises, but nothing materialized. This season, he was playing in the Turkish League finals when he got a message from the Celtics’ Director of Player Personnel Austin Ainge saying the Celtics were ready to bring him aboard.
It was a fascinating juxtaposition for Wanamaker – his dreams actualized, yet at a pressure-packed moment when he was trying to capture a championship with Fenerbahçe. He handled it gracefully, earning Finals MVP honors while continuing to talk with the Celtics.
“It was in the back of my mind, but there was still that doubt,” Wanamaker said. “I’ve been here before and I’ve heard the same thing before.”
But this time, the offer held true, and Wanamaker flew to Boston to join the Celtics this past July. He said that during the preseason it was still surreal, and he was going through the motions.
Once the season started, that’s when it really hit him and he settled into a groove.
“We played the Sixers, and I grew up a Sixers fan,” Wanamaker said. “That moment, when I got in the game and scored my first basket, that was the moment I was like, ‘Damn, I’m really here.’”
Wanamaker, who turns 30 in July, played a season-high 18 minutes Monday against the New Orleans Pelicans, scoring four points and adding four assists in a 113-100 win. He penetrated and finished, consistently made the extra pass for easy buckets, and was steady on defense all night.
Wanamaker glides to the hole and finishes high off glass! pic.twitter.com/zWwUoUfuIo
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) December 11, 2018
As he earns the trust of coach Brad Stevens, he knows he wouldn’t be where he is now without his time in Europe. He encourages younger players to never give up on their dreams, because it’s impossible to say how a career will pan out.
“They watchin’” he said. “You go over there and you think you’ll be stuck over there,” Wanamaker said. “Not a lot of people my age come back, but work on your game and improve. A lot of people go over there and just walk through the motions. Embrace the situation and give it your all. This was always the dream.”