Dean Wade says missing this NCAA Tournament was the toughest part of his life
When Dean Wade missed the majority of Kansas State’s run to the Elite Eight last season because of a foot injury, he compared the experience to being sent to timeout while all his friends were at a birthday party.
It was the type of analogy only Wade would think to make. Throughout his K-State career, the talented senior forward has always tried to put a lighthearted spin on things, regardless of the situation.
But there was nothing for him to joke about following K-State’s 70-64 loss to 13th-seeded UC Irvine in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday at SAP Center. Not even he could crack a smile after missing out on March Madness for the second straight season because of another foot injury, and watching his team falter without him.
“It’s been definitely the toughest part of my life,” Wade said.
On this day, he was the saddest person in a somber locker room.
“To grind all year through injuries and stuff like that,” Wade said, “and to play through all the stuff that maybe sometimes I shouldn’t have played through, but I wanted to be out there fighting ... To have it taken away from you two years in a row is horrible. It’s not fair.”
Wade was quick to point out that life is not fair. He hopes to somehow use this experience to his advantage as he gets healthy over the next few months and pursues a professional career.
Still, this stunk. Not just for him, but for his teammates and all the K-State fans who watched him arrive on campus as a skinny freshman from tiny St. John, Kansas, and leave as a muscle-flexing Big 12 champion.
K-State shocked everyone when it beat Creighton, Maryland-Baltimore County and Kentucky without Wade last season. But the Wildcats clearly needed Wade during an Elite Eight loss to Loyola-Chicago when the Ramblers came out hot and K-State didn’t have the firepower to mount a comeback.
The same could be said following this loss.
The Anteaters beat the Wildcats by getting Barry Brown in foul trouble and deploying a zone defense that left Xavier Sneed and Makol Mawien open from mid range. They couldn’t make enough of those shots to force UC Irvine out of the zone, but those shots are Wade’s bread and butter.
“It’s a huge difference,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “But no excuses. We won without him early in the season. We won without him last year. It’s just so sad. I don’t understand it. For him to two years in a row have injuries, not be able to play in the tournament when you’re such a good kid, quality person, he’s worked so hard, it’s really, really sad.”
Wade didn’t go into specifics about his foot injury, but he said it was bad enough that he knew his season was likely over the moment it happened during the team’s regular-season finale against Oklahoma two weeks ago.
He went on to play 33 minutes in that game and threw down a reverse dunk. Then he celebrated a shared Big 12 championship when it was over. No one watching suspected he was hurt. But he knew.
“I felt it on the fourth possession of the game,” Wade said. “I knew something wasn’t right with my foot. We talked about it at halftime and I said, ‘I’m not coming out. I’m not missing a whole half.’ We kind of knew what it was. I kind of knew what it was. I was pumped up on adrenaline and it wasn’t swelling up too bad. I could still play on it. As long as I kept playing I would be fine.
“But as soon as I stopped playing it got pretty bad. I couldn’t even walk the next day. I knew what it was since halftime, but it was one of those things where I wanted to play. I wasn’t coming out.”
Wade went out with a trophy. He played well enough this season to become the first K-State player since Jacob Pullen to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors in back-to-back seasons. He averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 rebounds, all while missing six games because of a different foot injury and playing at half strength in several others.
He was one of the most indispensable players in the country. The Wildcats went 20-5 this season with him in the starting lineup and 5-4 with him on the bench. Their odds of victory dropped nearly 25 percent when he wasn’t on the court.
K-State seemed like a Final Four contender with him dunking and making threes. But they were eliminated early with him as a spectator.
“It was tough on him,” K-State guard Kamau Stokes said. “It (stinks). I know how hard it is not to play. I didn’t sit out in the NCAA Tournament last year, but he did. And he did it two years in a row. I know it (stinks) for him.”
Wade hopes to be healthy enough to begin working out for pro teams in May. The NBA will give him a look. Wade has the size (6-foot-10, 228 pounds) and skills to play at the next level.
“We will see what the next chapter in my life brings,” Wade said, “and just dwell on the good times.”