Dean Wade has already cracked Kansas State’s starting lineup, established himself as a dependable scorer and made a game-winning shot.
Growing up in tiny St. John, Kan., some thought he would need time to adjust to life in the Big 12, but the freshman forward was clearly prepared for the transition. Wade is averaging 10.8 points and six rebounds. He has twice scored 17 points.
By all accounts, the first 16 games of his college basketball career have been a success. Still, there are times when Wade feels like he isn’t doing enough, and everyone around him is demanding more. Not a day goes by without a teammate or coach admonishing him for passing up an open shot.
“They still get really mad at me, because I am kind of in this little shooting slump right now,” Wade said. “It is pretty bad. The only way to get out of it is to keep shooting. So I am in this little slump and I am not so confident in my own shot, but they keep on me the whole time.”
Such is life for an overachieving freshman. Wade has averaged 11 points in his past four games, yet he says he’s slumping. Most coaches would be giddy about a young forward immediately showing his potential, but K-State coach Bruce Weber, having seen what Wade is capable of, isn’t.
The first time Wade traveled to Manhattan as a recruit for a day of pick-up basketball with current players, he was so shy that he went the entire afternoon without attempting a shot. Weber has hounded him to be more aggressive since, taking things so far in preseason scrimmages that he advised teammates to yell “shoot” every time Wade touched the ball.
“The coaches are always on his case,” junior Wesley Iwundu said. “We just try to step in and help him out a little bit. You know, just tell him to play aggressive and try to keep him at a good pace. He is still a freshman. We don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but if he goes out there and plays his game he will be fine.”
That much was evident early on when he scored 17 points against Columbia, 15 against South Dakota and 14 against Missouri in consecutive games. Then he scored 17 points and hit a game-winning shot from the baseline at Georgia. He also had 13 points in the first half against Colorado State.
But he was also quiet at times, scoring two points at Texas A&M and managing five points against Saint Louis. In his first three conference games – all losses – K-State worked to get him the ball in scoring position, yet he often deferred to teammates.
It is natural for a young player to yield to a veteran, but Weber is trying to discourage that type of thinking. He wants Wade to be a playmaker, not a complementary passer.
“I told him, ‘You aren’t going to make another shot unless you shoot another one,’” Weber said. “It’s Yogi Berra. It’s the obvious. He looked at me and I said, ‘Think about it. You had an open shot at the top of the key (at Texas) and passed it up and drove it. You turned it over. What, you wanted (Texas) to have another basket?’”
Weber thinks Wade could significantly increase K-State’s odds of winning by taking two extra shots.
“He still hesitates,” Weber said. “It’s just not natural. Even when he drives and goes by people and he makes an unbelievable move and everyone is going, ‘Oh my goodness,’ it’s like he gets it and holds it and holds it. I liked that he stepped up and made a three at a big part in the game (against Texas Tech). I think he needed to see the ball go through the hoop. Hopefully it helps him mentally.”
Indeed, Wade may have taken a step toward pleasing his coach on Tuesday when he made a three that ended a Texas Tech run and helped K-State hold off the Red Raiders after they had pulled to within five. He made two three-pointers on his way to 10 points.
“I have been in the gym every night shooting,” Wade said. “To finally see one go through the net was amazing. It was about time.”
Perhaps another big game against No. 17 Iowa State on Saturday is on the horizon. K-State could use an aggressive forward.
“If we are going to beat the top teams in the league, we need to have some guys step up and be special,” Weber said. “When it comes to gut-check time who is going to step up and make the shot? I think Dean is one of the guys who can step up and do that. Hopefully, he does.”
Kellis Robinett: @KellisRobinett