Ann Arbor — After Moritz Wagner graduated high school early in Germany, there was a gap year where all he did was play basketball, watch TV shows and occasionally cook.
He grew bored of the lifestyle after three months and knew during that time he didn’t want to stay in Europe and turn pro. Rather, he wanted a new experience.
It led him to traveling to Michigan during the 2014-15 season and venturing down a path that — three years later — he’s grateful he took.
“Back then I thought I was living the dream because I came over to visit a great university and get recruited by a great university,” Wagner, a junior center, told a small group of reporters Tuesday at Crisler Center. “If you write down a dream story, that’s it.”
However, Michigan was merely one chapter of Wagner’s unfolding tale and a stepping stone toward his storybook ending — playing in the NBA.
Last season, he dipped his toes in the NBA draft waters only to pull them out because he wasn’t sure he was prepared to make the plunge and there were enough convincing reasons to stay.
But this time around, Wagner (6-foot-11, 245 pounds) is ready to dive in. He announced his intentions to hire an agent and forgo his senior season for the NBA in a first-person essay for The Players’ Tribune last weekend.
“There isn’t a certain day where you think, ‘OK, this is it.’ It just felt right,” said Wagner, who led Michigan in scoring (14.6 points) and rebounding (7.1). “For me, it’s not about all the risks, all the stuff that you have you calculate and the stuff we talked about last year.
“It’s more a decision that I made as an individual, as a human about what’s the next step of my life. I wouldn’t be able to make that reflective decision if I didn’t have a great three years here at Michigan and really would appreciate this time. It all plays into it.”
For Wagner, it was never about the money or about leaving Michigan, a place he loves and has become his home away from home. It was about moving on and becoming an adult more than anything else.
“That’s what it came down to last year, too,” he said. “I wasn’t ready to do that and it’s the same decision this year, just the other way around. But that’s definitely the point I looked at the most. I’m a big gut feeling guy and it just feels right.
“It always sounds very naive when you say I trust my gut, but I obviously did my research. It’s the same point I made last year and now it’s just time for me.”
Wagner said he didn’t have a preconceived notion that this was going to be his final year wearing a Michigan uniform heading into the season.
Instead, his focus was on embracing all the new challenges he faced, from being one of the upperclassmen the rest of the team looks up to, to changing his mindset knowing he was being watched all the time by NBA scouts.
And now Wagner, who still refers to himself as a kid at times, will go from his biggest worry being when his homework is due to being a professional who has to balance money, travel, performance and everything else that comes with the job.
“It kind of sucks to hear it like that. At the same time, it’s a game that I play so I don’t have anything to complain about,” Wagner said. “It’s definitely a big step for me in my life, but the last three years helped me allow to get to know myself and be prepared for this step.”
Wagner said he’s in the final stages of settling on an agent and is weighing his options whether he’ll fully participate in the NBA combine, which will be held May 16-20 in Chicago, like he did last year if he gets invited.
He didn’t want to disclose how he plans time spend his time preparing for June’s draft until he signed with representation. But he added he feels he has an advantage having already gone through the evaluation process before and knows simple things first-timers wouldn’t, like how to pack for workouts.
“It’s almost being a sophomore. When you go into college and you’re a freshman, you ask yourself what’s going to happen next? Now we hit March, how is this going to be?” Wagner said. “Then as a sophomore you come back in October and you know what’s going to happen, so you can just focus on what you’re going to do and improve. It’s the same way with this type of stuff. I know what’s to come.
“I know how the people are going to talk to you. What they’re going to ask you and how you prepare for that stuff, like how am I going to dress? Those are all things that I didn’t know last year.”
Wagner is projected to be an early-to-mid second-round pick by most analysts, a similar range he was predicted to go last season. NBADraft.net has him listed as the No. 44 pick, while ESPN has him at No. 47.
While Wagner could improve his stock and possibly work his way up into the first round, eight of the first 11 second-round picks in last year’s draft received contracts with at least the first two years guaranteed, according to Hoopsrumors.com.
“We’ll see in June, right?” Wagner said. “I feel very good what I can do and what I can’t do about my position. I’m a very confident guy going into May and June.
“Even if it’s going to be a second-round pick, I can fall asleep with a smile on my face because I made this decision not based on where I’m going to get drafted and how much money I’m going to make. I made this decision because I feel ready to become a grown-up and — as much as it sucks to say it — move on. That’s why I feel very good about everything.”
It’s hard not to, considering he has already made a leap of faith before as an 18-year-old from Berlin who was chasing a dream.
“I came to the University of Michigan to have the experience, but my main goal was to make it to the NBA, to grow up as a person,” Wagner said. “I came here to be a basketball player and I’m very lucky to be able to have these three years on my resume. I had such a great time here and I’ll always come back.”