NBA interest in Pitt's Wanamaker on rise
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It's looking as if there will not be a Pitt basketball player drafted in the first round of the NBA draft for the 11th consecutive year. The Panthers haven't had a player taken in the first round of the draft since Vonteego Cummings was selected with the 26th overall pick in 1999.
But that doesn't mean there won't be a graduating Pitt senior on an NBA roster in the fall. In fact, the Panthers have three players whose names could be called when the NBA holds its annual draft June 23.
Guards Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown and center Gary McGhee are regarded as late second-round picks or likely free-agent signees. While none of the three are considered NBA shoo-ins, Wanamaker has been drawing more attention from teams in the league as the draft approaches.
Wanamaker was named a first-team all-star at the recent Portsmouth Invitational, a scouting combine for college seniors in Portsmouth, Va. For the past six weeks, he has been working out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., under the direction of Pittsburgh native Dan Barto, a 1997 Shaler High School graduate and the former basketball coach at Shady Side Academy.
"He proved at Portsmouth that you could drop him out of a plane anywhere and he could run a team," Barto said of Wanamaker. "With his physicality at the point, that translates into minutes right away. There are some smaller point guards out there who can do other things, but they can't defend the way Brad defends. Whether he's a second-round pick or a free agent, a team will fall in love with him. He's been here for six weeks and there hasn't been one activity that he hasn't been 45 minutes early for. You don't find that type of professionalism in many players."
Barto has been coaching at IMG on and off for the past nine years, and he shares the view of at least two other scouts who watched Wanamaker play at Pitt and at Portsmouth. While Wanamaker might not have the scoring potential that many NBA teams covet, he does have the ability to defend and a set of intangibles, including a natural gift of passing, toughness and leadership qualities, that make him a viable candidate to push for a roster spot next season.
"His only weakness is maybe he doesn't get his own shot or he doesn't shoot it great from 3, but NBA teams aren't looking for their third guard to do those things," Barto said. "They're looking to them to defend and to get the ball to their scorers. And late in the second round, or a free agent who is brought to a camp, they're there because it's the right fit or there is a need for that player."
Wanamaker, Pitt's second-leading scorer the past two seasons behind Ashton Gibbs, will have his first private workout for an NBA team today in San Antonio in front of Spurs coaches and team personnel. From San Antonio, Wanamaker will go to Boston for a workout with the Celtics. More workouts are expected to follow in the weeks leading up to the draft.
"I'm very confident," Wanamaker said. "Making it to the NBA is something every kid dreams about. I'm looking to show some teams that I'm capable of playing."
Wanamaker's future in the professional ranks will be at point guard. He was listed as a shooting guard during his four seasons at Pitt, but he was the de facto point guard the past two seasons when he led the Panthers in assists both years.
Wanamaker said Pitt's offensive system has prepared him well for the NBA game.
"My role won't change too much," said Wanamaker, who stands 6 feet 4. "People maybe looked at me as a slasher or shooting guard in college, but if you really looked at it I was the point guard. The NBA game is all about ball screens and pick and roll. Every play in the NBA is a ball screen, and that's what I did at Pitt for the past two seasons. Playing for coach [Jamie] Dixon really helped prepare me for the NBA. We changed our style the last few years to where it's more of an NBA style of play."
Wanamaker has been working out with other NBA hopefuls at IMG, including Marquette's Jimmy Butler, Villanova's Corey Stokes, Georgia Tech's Imam Shumpert and UTEP's Julyan Stone. All are considered big by NBA guard standards. Barto believes the competition will give Wanamaker an edge when he is competing against smaller guards in workouts in the coming weeks.
"I've been working to get quicker, more explosive and more athletic," Wanamaker said. "It's helped me out a lot. I've been getting better and I have more confidence in my game."
First Published May 30, 2011 12:00 am