Three short years have passed since Dean Wade made a recruiting trip to Kansas State and informed Bruce Weber he was going to be a Wildcat.
It just doesn’t seem that way to Wade now that he is a junior preparing to start his 67th game in a K-State uniform.
“That feels like a lifetime away right now,” Wade said. “It feels like the old days, even though I was in high school just two-and-a-half years ago. Some of my best memories come from back then, and I won’t ever forget them. But it feels like I’m living a different life now.”
In many ways, he is. Though Wade is still evolving as a college basketball player, K-State will lean on the 6-foot-10 power forward from St. John, Kan., this season like a seasoned veteran, the type of impact contributor who makes big plays on the court and provides leadership away from it.
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That puts Wade in the interesting position of having to play like a senior before he has logged three full seasons. But he will have company in that department. K-State will turn to a trio of juniors — Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Wade — to make up for its lack of scholarship seniors.
“They are going to have to play like seniors, with consistency,” Weber said. “Our little quote for the summer was, ‘If you never wake up with something to prove, you will never improve.’ We have talked about that all summer, and to me there is no doubt they have improved. Now we have to show it.”
It’s a challenge they embrace.
Why would they shy away from it? Brown, Stokes and Wade arrived on campus together at a tumultuous time. The Wildcats were coming off a losing season, and K-State’s roster saw major turnover via player dismissals and transfers. Weber hit the reset button, and he built around the core group of juniors you see today.
Wade, a four-star recruit, started 31 games as a freshman and all 35 as a sophomore.
Brown, a three-star recruit from St. Petersburg, Fla., started 11 games at shooting guard as a freshman and all 35 as a sophomore.
Stokes, a three-star recruit from Baltimore, started 20 games as a freshman and all 35 as a sophomore.
Add it up, and that’s nearly 70 games together. They’ve been through it all, from a rebuilding effort as freshmen to 20 wins and the NCAA Tournament as sophomores. This is their team.
“I feel like the old guy on the team,” Stokes said. “Barry and Dean should too, because we have been here, and we have experienced everything. We played a lot of minutes as freshmen. We have been through it all.”
Practice makes perfect
If Barry Brown could sleep at K-State’s practice facility, he might never go home.
Teammates mean it when they say Brown puts in more work than any other player on the team. His typical day includes individual workouts in the morning, afternoon and evening, all on top of his daily team demands. He watches video, he works on his shot, he lifts weights, he runs ... anything to help him improve on the 11.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game he averaged last season.
“It’s just constant,” Brown said. “If I skip a day, I can feel my game start to drop off.”
Brown put in long hours in hopes of taking over a leadership role this year. It wasn’t always fun, holding himself to a higher standard than he ever has, but it’s been worth it. So far, so good.
“I feel like it is my team,” Brown said.
He has some big goals he wants to achieve.
“I want to win the Big 12, get back to the NCAA Tournament and win games against tough teams. I also want to stay ranked throughout the whole season. That’s a big goal for me. We have the tools and the pieces to compete at a high level, and be up there with the top teams in the country.”
Kamau Stokes made 64 three-pointers last season, by far the most of anyone on K-State’s roster. The junior point guard hopes to improve on that number this season and average more than 11.7 points, but that’s not the statistic he considers most important.
The area he truly wants to improve: assists and turnovers.
Last year, Stokes had 145 assists and 100 turnovers. That’s not nearly good enough to make him marketable as a professional, his dream, or guide the Wildcats into the top half of the Big 12 standings. This year, he wants to channel Steve Nash and come as close to eliminating turnovers as he possibly can.
“My assists to turnover ratio should be at 6 to 1,” Stokes said. “I can get there. That would be great. There should be plenty of games where I don’t turn the ball over. Turnovers are mental errors, completely unforced.”
If Stokes is a better facilitator within the offense, K-State will benefit. His biggest contribution as a sophomore was hitting the occasional three at the end of a possession. Now, he’s looking to improve his game and set the entire team up for success.
That’s what a senior leader would do.
Since he arrived on campus, K-State basketball players have urged Dean Wade to be aggressive. So much so that whenever he found himself open in practice, everyone in the gym yelled at him to shoot.
He hasn’t always listened, averaging 9.3 points and 4.5 rebounds as a sophomore, but that should change this season.
Wade’s goal is to take 12 shots a game. The Wildcats are hopeful more 20-point games, like the ones he put up against Kansas last year, will follow.
“Dean is definitely aggressive,” Stokes said. “He’s not the Dean Wade y’all are used to. I’m used to this Dean Wade, because I see him all the time in practice. I just hope he keeps this confidence all season, because he is looking great.”
Weber helped build Wade’s confidence by showing him a blind stat comparison of last season. After reading off the stats of a mystery player that made 49 percent of his shots and 40 percent of his three-pointers, he asked Wade if he thought that player should shoot more or less.
Wade’s answer: more.
The player those stats belonged to: Wade.
Lesson learned. Much like Brown and Stokes, he’s ready to play up to his full potential a year ahead of schedule.
“The sky is the limit for all of us,” Wade said. “We have got potential everywhere, at every single position. It should be a fun season.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett