Rick Carlisle on new Pacers G Brad Wanamaker: 'It was as if he's been here the whole time'
INDIANAPOLIS – Brad Wanamaker’s first encounter with the Butler Bulldogs ended his college basketball career.
Subsequent ones have, well, made his NBA career.
“I’m forever grateful for Brad Stevens over there,” he said.
The 6-3 Wanamaker, at age 29, made his NBA debut with Stevens’ Boston Celtics in 2018. Wanamaker was acquired by the Indiana Pacers in a non-guaranteed deal Tuesday night even as they were playing a preseason game at New York.
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The 32-year-old has a genuine chance to make the Pacers as the No. 3 point guard. He met with coaches Wednesday and practiced with the team Thursday. The Pacers play the second of four preseason games Friday night at Cleveland.
“I didn’t come here just to come here,” Wanamaker said. “I came here to compete, show what I’m capable of and try to make the roster.”
His arrival represented a reunion with Pacers assistant coach Ronald Nored, the former Butler guard. Both were with the Charlotte Hornets last season.
The No. 8-seeded Bulldogs upset No. 1 seed Pittsburgh 71-70 in the NCAA tournament’s round of 32 en route to the 2011 national championship game. Nored played 28 scoreless minutes for Butler, and Wanamaker had eight points and seven assists in 36 minutes for the Panthers.
Wanamaker said he hugged Nored in Indianapolis.
“Obviously, our relationship has grown since Pitt played Butler,” he said. “I didn’t like him then, but he’s cool now.”
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle is cool with having a veteran backing up Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. McConnell. Wanamaker played two seasons for the Celtics, then split last season between Golden State (39 games) and Charlotte (22 games).
He led the NBA with a .926 free throw percentage in 2019-20, but that has not translated to 3-point accuracy. Wanamaker shot a collective .188 on 3s last season with 5.5 points and 2.9 assists in 17 minutes per game.
Carlisle’s bottom line: “He’s an NBA player.”
The coach added: “Today, it was as if he’s been here the whole time. He really blended in. He’s a physical guard. Can shoot it. He’s a good cutter, a good defender. You know, there’s an opportunity here.”
Wanamaker was not drafted out of Pittsburgh in 2011, but it’s not as if he had a blank resume before the NBA.
He was finals MVP of the Turkish League in 2018, all-EuroLeague second team in 2017, MVP of Germany’s Bundesliga in 2016, German finals MVP in 2015, French Supercup winner in 2012, D-League champion in 2012.
He has won everywhere, including in 2019-20, when the Celtics made the Eastern Conference finals.
“Once you learn the NBA game, it’s hard for others to come in and adjust right way,” Wanamaker said. “It takes time, it takes reps, it takes a lot of film study.
“Being that this is my fourth year in the NBA, I learned a lot. I’ve learned the pace of the game.”
Wanamaker is pitted against 28-year-old rookie Keifer Sykes, a two-time Horizon League player of the year at Green Bay, for the No. 3 slot at point guard.
Carlisle did not dismiss rookie Chris Duarte as someone who could play the point, but the coach favors experience there.
That is Wanamaker’s cue. He has even adopted the catchphrase of a local college team.
“Sometimes, especially basketball, you like to be the underdog,” he said. “You like to come fight. Sometimes it’s the best way.”
Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.