As an undrafted free agent, former Pitt standout Brad Wanamaker was one of the unfortunate aspiring pros hurt by the NBA lockout last summer. There was no NBA summer league, no opportunity to play in front of the league's scouts and coaches.
Undrafted players didn't have much of a chance to make an NBA roster. Wanamaker went to training camp with the Atlanta Hawks but was released shortly before the season began.
Wanamaker's dream of playing in the NBA remains alive, however, after a great finish to his inaugural season in the NBA's Developmental League.
Wanamaker helped the Austin Toros, the minor league affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs, win the D-League championship Saturday night.
The Toros defeated the Los Angeles D-Fenders, 2-1, in a best-of-three series by sweeping the final two games in Los Angeles. Wanamaker was a big reason the Toros celebrated after a 122-110 victory in Game 3.
After joining the team late in the season following a stint for a Division II professional team in Italy, Wanamaker became a starter in the playoffs and was a spark plug for the Toros, who also beat Canton and Erie in earlier playoff rounds.
Wanamaker averaged 7.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists in nine playoff games. In the final series against Los Angeles, Wanamaker averaged 11.7 points in almost 30 minutes per game. In the Game 3 victory, Wanamaker played a team-high 40 minutes, scored 18 points and had a team-best plus/minus rating of plus-23.
"I was working hard and doing the little things I did during my career in Pittsburgh," said Wanamaker, who played point guard, shooting guard and some small forward for the Toros. "That's my game, being an all-around player. An opportunity came to me and I made the most of it."
Wanamaker, a two-year starter at guard for Pitt, joined the Toros March 1 and only played in 15 regular-season contests. When he arrived, Austin coach Brad Jones had a set guard rotation, including top D-League prospect Justin Dentmon getting a lot of minutes.
But as Dentmon and others were called up to NBA teams, Wanamaker received more playing time. When Dentmon and other NBA call-ups such as Ronald Murray and Carldell Johnson rejoined the Toros for the playoffs, Wanamaker had impressed the coaches enough to remain in the starting lineup.
"I was comfortable from the jump, but we had a lot of guards when I got there," Wanamaker said. "I'd play my minutes here and there in the regular season, but it was tough because we had a set rotation. Coach's job is to win games, and I couldn't blame him for playing guys who had NBA experience. But as those guys got called up to the NBA, I got more minutes. And I took advantage of my opportunity."
In the final five games of the playoffs Wanamaker started and Murray, who played in 487 NBA games from 2002-10, came off the bench. So did Johnson, who played in 15 games for the New Orleans Hornets this season.
For that reason, Wanamaker is enthused about his future. Spurs general manager Danny Ferry, who asked him to leave Italy to play for the Toros, has offered him a spot in San Antonio's entry in the NBA summer league. Wanamaker has offers from a few other NBA teams as well, but he is going to wait until after the NBA draft in late June before deciding which opportunity is best.
In the meantime, he'll return home to Philadelphia soon before coming back to Pittsburgh, where he will reunite with some former teammates for workouts this summer at Petersen Events Center.
Some of them are playing in other professional leagues and making more money than the modest salary Wanamaker draws in the D-League. Wanamaker knows sooner or later that he'll have to make a decision on whether to chase the money or the dream of playing in the NBA.
"I'm only 22, and I feel like I have a lot of basketball ahead of me," Wanamaker said. "I have a lot of time to make money. Right now, I'm still chasing my dream."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.