Dean Wade was called into head coach Bruce Weber’s office leading up to the Oklahoma game. Wade had been down as of late.
He had scored below his average in five of his six past games. He had only rebounded more than his average in one of his last four games.
The most recent performance weighing on his mind was his 26-minute stint in the historic Allen Fieldhouse, where he scored only five points and grabbed just two rebounds. He and his team were run off the floor in the second half, leaving his confidence in no better state of repairs than it was when he had entered.
Once the freshman forward settled into his coach’s office on the second floor of the Ice Family Basketball Center, Weber, who brought him 2.5 hours from St. John, Kansas, as a four-star prospect, had some words of wisdom.
“Dean, I’m going to tell you this: ‘You’re a really good player,'” Weber said. “You’re one of the best freshman in the Big 12 and also maybe in the country. I’m just telling you this so you know how good you are and so you come to play. I’m not doing it to put pressure on you, just make sure you can understand that. Come and play the way that you can.”
The No. 1 Sooners came to Manhattan on Saturday, and Wade said he found himself out of the starting lineup for the first time since his sophomore year of high school when he was sick. Weber said he wanted him to get mad, even if that anger was directed back at the bench.
“We’ve tried lots of things,” Weber said. “Talking to him, shooting with him, watching film with him and finally I just said, ‘I’m going to sit you on the bench and if you’re mad at me, I hope you take it out on the other team.’ He came out very aggressive.”
After K-State fell into a 9-0 hole, sucking the life out of the jam-packed purple crowd, Wade, came off the bench and scored five points in an eight-point run to cut Oklahoma’s lead to one.
The Wildcats eventually took the lead and grabbed K-State’s third victory over a top-ranked team in the past decade. Wade finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. The performance earned him his second Phillips 66 Big 12 Newcomer of the Week honor Monday morning. A return to form was a welcome sign for his teammates.
“He’s playing with a ton of confidence, and I like that,” junior forward D.J. Johnson said.
It seems like a lifetime ago that the media huddled in the bowels of the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, while Weber urged them to “not let (Wade) know” how good the freshman was.
“I run into so many students and people who are from other small towns in Kansas who say, ‘We played against Dean, we love Dean,'” Weber said. “I feared that if he got too much attention, it would take a toll on him, which it did.”
Wade, now more than halfway through his first year on campus, has seemed to eclipse the wide-eyed, impressionable, tall and skinny version of himself that K-State coaches saw win a high school state championship last year in the same building where he helped topple the No. 1 team in the country.
He is grounded but driven, bound for greatness yet still a small-town Kansas boy working on a dream — the kind you would write a bad country song about. Even with that, Weber said he feels confident he will not lose him to the noise.
“I know he’ll stay level-headed,” Weber said. “His parents will make sure of that. He’ll stay humble, but we also need him to be aggressive on the court.”
The learning curve for the freshman has run out. His performance versus Oklahoma, while great, needs to become the rule instead of the exception if K-State wants to find success and get into the postseason.
All it took was reassurance.