The former Westminster and Princeton basketball standout has established a solid professional career in Europe, spending the last eight years playing for a number of teams in Germany, Italy and Spain.
The latest stop for the 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward is Spanish powerhouse F.C. Barcelona — best known for its soccer team — where he has played the last two seasons.
It has been another solid year for the 30-year-old Wallace, who has averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds a game in 29 Endesa League games and helped lead Barca, as the team is commonly referred to in Europe, to the title in the prestigious Copa Del Ray tournament in Vitoria, Spain, Feb. 7 through 10.
Wallace is coming to the end of the 2012-13 season, a 10-month campaign that began in September and is concluding with the Endesa League playoffs.
Wallace looks to finish the year with an Endesa League championship as Barca opened the postseason with a best-of-five quarterfinal series against Bilbao Basket last week.
“Our season didn’t start out the best, but we’re kind of peaking and we’re doing a good job,” Wallace said. “We won the Copa Del Ray and that was a big thing. Hopefully, we’ll get it done in the playoffs. It will be a successful season if we win the Copa Del Ray and the [Endesa] League.”
The biggest disappointment for Wallace this season was Barca’s fourth-place finish in the Euroleague, which features the top teams in Europe.
One of the top contenders going into the Euroleague Final Four in London in early May, the injury-riddled Barca squad lost its semifinal game to Spanish archrival Real Madrid 74-67 May 10 and the third-place contest to CSKA Moscow 74-73 May 12.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries,” Wallace said. “We were probably the best team throughout the [Euroleague] regular season — it was really disappointing. We thought we could have competed for the championship. It was a tough way to go, but there’s always next year.”
Wallace has come a long way from his days at Westminster, where he graduated in 2001 and played varsity basketball his last two years.
He moved on to play at Princeton, where he was the Ivy League Player of the Year as a junior in 2004 and helped lead the Tigers to two conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances.
A herniated disc in his back ruined Wallace’s senior campaign and damaged his chances of landing a spot in the NBA.
Nevertheless, while recovering from back surgery, he was able to secure a contract with Eisbaeren Bremerhaven in Germany in 2005.
“I had surgery after senior year and couldn’t do any of the NBA stuff,” Wallace said. “I couldn’t really work out for any of the NBA teams. I was bedridden for two months and I signed my first contract overseas before I was able to walk — kind of hoping that I would be able to recover 100 percent. I’ve been fortunate since then.”
Wallace played two years with Bremerhaven (2005-07), then spent one season with Orlandina Basket in Capo D’Orlando, Italy (2007-08).
He moved on to play two seasons with Italian powerhouse Benetton Treviso (2008-10) and a year with Spanish team Gran Canaria (2010-11) before joining Barca in 2011.
In his eight years in Europe, Wallace has noticed the difference between the more team-oriented approach of European basketball and the more individualistic focus of the game in the U.S.
“The NBA is more of a one-on-one game,” Wallace said. “It’s more athletic, it’s more star-based or individual-based. In Europe, it’s more of a team game, more focused on skills and fundamentals, making shots, passing, stuff like that. A lot of European guys maybe go to the NBA and are successful, while a lot of NBA guys come to Europe and not do well at all.
“It’s very competitive. The highest level of European basketball is very competitive with the NBA.”
While European teams play about 70 to 80 games a year — fewer than NBA teams — Wallace said the intensity of the action can take its toll.
“The games in Europe are more physical in terms of being more demanding on your body, night in and night out,” Wallace said. “We don’t play as many games as they do in the NBA. We play a much shorter schedule, but it’s a more intense schedule as far as the amount of games. Each game, you’re sore the next day, for sure, and there’s a lot of travel.”
The biggest moment of Wallace’s pro career came last season, when Barca won the Spanish League title — bouncing back from a 2-1 deficit to beat Real Madrid in the best-of-five championship series.
“That was a big, big thing for me, because it was my first championship overseas,” Wallace said. “My dad had passed away that year, during the season. It was a big thing for him and he was always a big fan of my basketball stuff, so being able to kind of do that for him was special. Winning that first championship was a big thing for me and it was the happiest moment of my basketball life overseas.”
While playing in the NBA is something that he still thinks about, Wallace said he has enjoyed playing basketball and living in Europe.
“I would love to play in the NBA; that would be great,” Wallace said. “But, at the same time, playing in Barcelona … it’s an amazing city — great club, great organization. FC Barcelona is probably the biggest [sports] organization in the world, because of the soccer team and the basketball team — it’s just huge. Playing in Europe, it’s an adjustment — but it’s an exciting adjustment. I made some pretty good money, met some people, learned some different languages. It’s a great experience.”