Dean Wade used to look up to All-Big 12 players like Perry Ellis and Georges Niang. He considered them the gold standard for forwards when he arrived at Kansas State as a skinny, timid freshman and wondered if he would ever come close to matching their levels of consistent dominance.
Today, young basketball players across the league look at Wade the same way.
The junior K-State forward seems destined for a spot on one of the Big 12’s all-conference teams after guiding the Wildcats past Baylor 77-67 on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum. Maybe the first team. Wade had 25 points and seven rebounds, impressing Baylor coach Scott Drew to the point he wondered aloud if he and teammate Barry Brown might turn pro.
“For the record, it was senior night and I am personally hoping this is Dean Wade’s and Barry Brown’s last game at Kansas State, because both of them are pros,” Drew said. “I have got nothing but respect for them. We have struggled to guard them.
“Those two guys are really, really good. It reminds me of back in the day when Michael Beasley and Bill Walker had 80, or something, against us.”
That’s some high praise.
Both Brown and Wade have been excellent this season. But it’s Wade who has truly shined.
He has been the driving force behind K-State’s journey to a fourth-place conference finish. The Wildcats (21-10, 10-8 Big 12) were picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll, but that was before anyone realized how good Wade would be.
Few thought the player that used to turn down more shots than he took would reach double figures in 19 straight games, flirt with triple-doubles and play like a NBA prospect as a junior. Wade entered Saturday’s game averaging 16.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists and backed those numbers up when his team needed him.
That should be enough to earn a spot on the All-Big 12 first team. Wade has been more consistent than Texas center Mo Bamba and he has been a more complete player than Udoka Azubuike, Sagaba Konate and Vlad Brodziansky. He’s arguably the best forward in the conference.
“He is definitely one of the best players in the league,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “He has got to be one of the best forwards in the country.”
Wade has the size (6-foot-10, 228 pounds) and shooting ability (54.6 percent from the field and 42.5 percent from three) to play at the next level. But he might also need another year in college to develop and improve his draft stock.
Weber says he will sit down with Wade and discuss the topic after the season.
“He is going to be an NBA player, whether it is this next year or the year after, he is going to have a chance,” Weber said. “… It’s not just about going to the NBA, it’s about being ready to go to the NBA and being ready to stay in the NBA.”
Will he leave early? Or will Wade return for his senior season like Ellis and Niang, the All-Big 12 first-teamers he used to look up to?
When asked about the topic Saturday he avoided the question by saying “we’ll be locked in against TCU” at the Big 12 Tournament. K-State and TCU play in the quarterfinals at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
That mindset has made him an all-conference player this season.
Progress for the program
Now that the regular season is over, Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor can say the Wildcats have taken a step forward from where they were when he was hired last spring.
“Absolutely,” Taylor said, “particularly when you are picked eighth going into the season with a team that is unknown.”
K-State went 21-14 and finished sixth in the Big 12 last season, losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Cincinnati. It is on pace for better this season despite not having a scholarship senior on the roster.
Weber remains unpopular with a segment of fans, but Taylor seems pleased with the team’s current trajectory.
“With what’s going on in the world of college basketball I couldn’t be more proud of Bruce and his coaches and these kids,” Taylor said. “They do everything you want them to do, both on the court and off the court. To have somebody like that, to have a program like that, we are pretty lucky.”
K-State is 3-0 in its throwback lavender uniforms this season.
It’s starting to feel like more than coincidence. The Wildcats beat TCU at home while wearing them for what turned out to be one of their best wins, then broke them out for a road victory over Oklahoma State and with them again Saturday against Baylor.
Turns out K-State needed to get a waiver from the NCAA to wear them, as the two-tone nature of the uniforms (lavender tops and dark purple shorts) go against rules that state uniforms should all be the same color. They are worth the paperwork.
They have replaced gray as the team’s go-to uniforms in big games.
“It was big-game gray, but they haven’t been too big,” Weber said. “(Director of basketball operations Drew) Speraw asked me about two weeks ago if we could pull them out again for the last game and I said, ‘Shoot, I like them,’ … I think the kids like them. It’s something different. If we get on ESPN highlights people do notice.”
Here’s a statistic for you: K-State is undefeated (7-0) when sophomore forward Makol Mawien scores 10 or more points this season.
That tidbit held up against Baylor, as Mawien scored 14 points and grabbed three rebounds. He could have had a much bigger game had he avoided foul trouble, instead of fouling out after just 17 minutes.
It shows how important Mawien can be to the Wildcats, and why it is important for him to be aggressive when teams try to clamp down on Wade inside.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett