Dean Wade has never played better.
The junior Kansas State forward is coming off his best two-game stretch in a Wildcat uniform, and he has the look of a player who is ready to keep producing.
His 17 points and nine rebounds against George Washington helped K-State take third place at the Las Vegas Invitational. His 25 points and 11 rebounds allowed K-State to hold off Oral Roberts on Wednesday at Bramlage Coliseum. Now, Wade wants to lead the Wildcats to their first road win of the season, at Vanderbilt on Sunday.
“The coaches just expect that of me,” Wade said. “More than just a couple times, they expect an everyday, bring your confidence type of game. I didn’t play very well the first game in Vegas, and I made an effort defensively just to focus on defensive rebounding and playing hard. Not so much on offense, because offense will come if you are playing hard.”
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Few are playing harder than Wade.
Ever since he arrived on campus as a wide-eyed freshman from tiny St. John, K-State coaches and players have begged him to ramp up his aggression and play like an alpha dog. They yelled at him to shoot in practice, and scolded him for turning down shots in games. Teammate Kamau Stokes slapped him in the chest for looking to pass instead score during a NCAA Tournament loss to Cincinnati last year.
He has needed no such encouragement this year. Wade is averaging 14 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
“He is doing more in the interior than he has the previous years,” Oral Roberts coach Paul Mills said. “That is credit to him and the staff. It is credit to his willingness to stick his nose in there. He was able to make plays around the rim. He is a much better offensive rebounder than he was a year ago. On account of that, K-State is going to win some basketball games because of his willingness to go in there and make plays.”
Wade has always been one of the better stretch fours in the Big 12 – when he played his best. He scored 20 points in two games against Kansas last season, stepping outside to hit three-pointers and going inside to take advantage of mismatches created by his 6-foot-10 body.
But he hasn’t played that way consistently until now.
K-State coach Bruce Weber is crossing his fingers that continues.
“It’s great,” Weber said. “He is a good player. I have told you that all year. He has taken a step. I love to see it on the court. I try not to say much about it, because I just want to let him prove it on the court. I hope that continues Sunday and Tuesday. We have got a tough stretch here.”
K-State heads to Nashville on Sunday for one of its toughest nonconference games against Vanderbilt. Though the Commodores are off to a 3-4 start, they have played a grueling schedule and are coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Weber added this game to boost K-State’s nonconference schedule when he was informed that playing a number of road and neutral court games last year helped the Wildcats earn the final at-large spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“Road wins and road games are important to the selection committee,” Weber said. “Some teams don’t even go on the road in the nonconference. It’s good for us to get that experience. You don’t want to go into the Big 12 without ever playing on the road.”
K-State has leaned on Wade to win games at home and on neutral courts this season. It will try and do the same on the road against Vanderbilt.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas St. at Vanderbilt
When: 1:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Memorial Gym, Nashville, Tenn.
Radio: 1480-AM, 102.5-FM, 107.9-FM
TV: SEC Network Plus