Escape route: Celtics' Marcus Morris and Brad Wanamaker escape mean streets of Philly in getting to NBA

A. Sherrod Blakely
NBC Sports Boston

Escape route: Celtics' Marcus Morris and Brad Wanamaker escape mean streets of Philly in getting to NBA originally appeared on nbcsportsboston.com

When it comes to speaking the truth, Marcus Morris is about as straight-no-chaser as they come. 

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So as Boston gears up to face his hometown Philadelphia 76ers tonight, it's an ideal time to reflect upon how far the North Philly native has come from THE humble surroundings that could have easily derailed his promising basketball career, as it did so many young men he grew up with at that time. 

"I have a lot of friends that did time in jail at a young age; 17, 18 years old and did five, six years and came home as a grown up," Morris told NBC Sports Boston.

Those times have helped shape Morris' outlook on life both on and off the court, forging a level of mental toughness in him that has allowed him to easily shrug off rough basketball nights while not getting too elated over good ones. 

"Basketball has been amazing," Morris said. "Basketball gave me a platform to go back to the youth and show that it's possible; it's possible."

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He's hoping those amazing times will only get better with the Celtics looking to close out the regular season strong.

Tonight's game would indeed be another step in that direction as they attempt to sweep the season series from Philadelphia for the third time in the last four years.

While such dominance makes talk of a rivalry difficult to palate, Boston guard Brad Wanamaker knows it's always special whenever these two Eastern Conference foes hook up. 

Like Morris, Wanamaker is also from North Philly.  And like Morris, basketball became his escape from troubled surroundings as well. 

Crime. Drugs. Violence. Wanamaker had seen it all at a young age.

"My family . . . they were heavy in the drug game," Wanamaker told NBC Sports Boston.

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But that all changed courtesy of his older brother, James Samuel. 

"My older brother was the first one that I really saw that had a job; like a 9-5 job. That was like a positive in my life. My twin brother (Brian) and my sisters (Crystal and Latisha),  we used him as our role model in a way that . . . we don't have to go down that other path."

For Wanamaker, the path towards success involved playing basketball. 

After a standout career at Philadelphia's Roman Catholic High School, Wanamaker went on to the University of Pittsburgh, where he established himself as one of the Big East's top players along with being an honorable mention All-American. 

But the NBA wasn't sold on his talent and he went undrafted in 2011. 

He would eventually take his talents overseas where he found tremendous success, racking up championships and MVP honors in the process. 

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Still clinging to his dream of playing in the NBA, the 29-year-old Wanamaker spoke about how those tough times as a youth, the prospect of not being drafted and now being on an NBA roster but playing sparingly, has tested his mental resolve in ways he would have never dreamed of before. 

"It's the toughest [expletive] I've had to deal with in my life," Wanamaker, referring to not playing much for the Celtics, told NBC Sports Boston. "Basketball is my escape from everything."

This season, Wanamaker has appeared in 30 games for Boston, averaging 3.4 points and 1.3 assists while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 50 percent on 3's in 8.7 minutes per game. 

However, having seen and lived through some of the many challenges that kids who grow up in North Philly endure, Wanamaker isn't tripping at all about not playing more. 

"I've seen a lot worse than not playing in a basketball game," he said. 

And whenever he's feeling down about his lack of playing time, Morris is often the first to cheer him up or, at a minimum, reminisce about their days playing together on the same AAU team.

Back then, they were playing to win for their team and showcase what they could do as players. These days, both acknowledge that they play the game for something bigger than their own personal agenda.

"There's so few of us in the NBA from Philadelphia, every time I step on the floor I gotta represent," Morris said in a separate interview with NBC Sports Boston.

Wanamaker echoed a similar sentiment.

"Not only am I playing for myself, but I'm playing for my family back home," Wanamaker said. "My family back home and a lot of my homies who picked up the game and didn't make it this far. I always tell people all the time, it's bigger than me. I put the work in day-in, day out, to try and keep working to get out on the court. But I'm doing this for more than just me; I never forget that, never."

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