Wayne Engelstad has always dreamed of playing in the National Basketball Assn.
The dream appeared a lot closer to reality for the 22-year-old Engelstad after a brilliant senior season at UC Irvine when he averaged 23.6 points and 7.5 rebounds and was named most valuable player of the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. postseason tournament.
A prep standout at Bosco Tech in Rosemead, Engelstad was hoping his performance for the Anteaters would impress scouts enough to be selected during the NBA draft.
Engelstad was disappointed but not discouraged.
"I anticipated being drafted, so it was a little disappointing. It hurt for a couple of days, but then I figured as long as I'm invited to (training) camps it's all right."
It may have been a blessing in disguise, Engelstad said: "I think it's going to make me work a little harder."
Not that he hasn't worked.
He has been practicing long hours every day since the end of school. "I play from the time I get up until I go to bed."
The 6-7, 245-pound Engelstad is hoping that his dedication pays off by landing as a free agent with an NBA team. He said the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets are his top choices, although he has received interest from the Golden State Warriors.
Engelstad realizes that signing is only his first step. Making the team is another matter, but Engelstad likes his chances.
One point in his favor is versatility. A center at Irvine last season, he has the height and muscle to play power forward and has the shooting range to be an off-guard. He was Irvine's top 3-point shooter, making 40 of 91 shots (43.9%) last season.
"I think that's what's going to help me in the NBA. I can play more than one spot. I can play forward and I can bang if I have to. I've never played off-guard, but I'm willing to try it."
Bill Mulligan, coach of the Anteaters, said a lot will depend on which team he signs with and the position they want him to play.
"He has some definite strengths," Mulligan said. "He shoots well and has a quick first step, and he can get physical if he has to. But when you look at him compared to what the NBA is looking for, it's hard to say.
"I think Wayne can make it. It's just a question of finding the right team. Probably the right coach is even more important."
Durability is certainly not a question mark. He played in 118 consecutive games during four years at Irvine, including the last 69 as a starter.
"I've had two injuries at UC Irvine and both were in the off-season to the same foot, and I had time to recover (before the season started)," he said."
Mulligan said he has also noticed a surge in confidence from Engelstad since he arrived in Irvine.
"He's got more confidence now, yet he was a big-time player coming out of high school," Mulligan said. "Now he just brims with confidence and has a lot more maturity. I only wish I had him another year."
Engelstad had grown accustomed to success by the time he arrived in Irvine. As a junior, he led Bosco Tech to the CIF Southern Section 5-A semifinals and its best record ever. The next year, he averaged 24.5 points and 16.5 rebounds to lead Bosco into the playoffs again and earn first-team All-CIF recognition for the second straight year.
He credits his coach at Bosco Tech, Jorge Calienes, with starting his basketball career in the right direction.
"He did a great job of working with me. He pushed me and never let my success get to my head."
Engelstad gained a lot of respect for Calienes, recently named coach at East Los Angeles College, and visits him often. He has also returned his appreciation by speaking at the Bosco Tech Summer Basketball Camp the last three seasons.
"I usually visit Coach Calienes about once a month," he said. "He's going to be coaching at East Los Angeles now, but that's part of his dream to coach at the college level, just as I have a dream to play in the NBA."
Along the way, Engelstad says, he has also benefited from a close relationship with his family. He stays frequently at his parents' house in Rosemead during the summer.
"At this time of the year I come home about every weekend. It's important for me to come back. During the season it's harder, but if I have any chance I come back."
Engelstad said proximity to Rosemead was a key factor in his decision to attend Irvine.
"I think that was probably the biggest reason," he said. "I wanted to be close so my mom and family could see me play. I don't think she (his mother, Diane) missed a home game in four seasons."
He said having his family nearby especially helped in his early years in college. Despite his success in high school, Engelstad soon learned that the transition to college ball would not be easy.
"There's no comparison between high school and college," he said. "It's 10 steps up in terms of intensity."
During his first two seasons, Engelstad had difficulty developing confidence.
"There were times when I felt I had lost all of my confidence. In my sophomore year at times I felt shot emotionally. My shots were just not falling.