Louisville coach Rick Pitino says his aerial artistry is
tailor-made for the NBA. Memphis's John Calipari marvels that he
can create his own shot no matter which defenses are thrown at
him. Cincinnati's Bob Huggins calls him the best athlete his
Bearcats have faced since Anfernee Hardaway glided through
Memphis in the early 1990s. Yet for all the swooping drives and
highlight-reel dunks that Marquette guard Dwyane Wade produced
this season, it is the completeness of his game that separates
him from the competition for player of the year. "Dwyane is
flashy when he needs to be, but he also has a ton of substance,"
Golden Eagles coach Tom Crean says. "He does all the important
things that don't show up in a box score."
The box scores nevertheless make a strong case for Wade. At
week's end the 6'5" junior led Conference USA in scoring (21.9
points per game) and had sunk 51.1% of his field goal attempts.
(Those numbers dwarf Texas guard T.J. Ford's 14.8-point average
on 41.6% shooting.) Facing a variety of junk defenses, Wade had
racked up points by repeatedly getting to the foul line, where
he'd had 65 more attempts than Ford and converted 77.1% of his
free throws (up from 69.0% last season). Wade was also eighth in
the league in assists (4.1 average) and was pulling down 6.3
rebounds per game.
Like Xavier's David West (page 36), Wade also should be on the
short list for national defensive player of the year. Through
Sunday he was averaging 2.3 steals (second in Conference USA) and
1.3 blocks--the latter exceptional for a guard. His long arms and
lateral quickness enable him to maraud in passing lanes. Crean
says Wade's knack of deflecting passes is every bit as disruptive
as a dominating center's shot altering. According to Crean, Wade
once had 22 deflections in a single game, one of those numbers
that doesn't show up in the box score.
Normally, Wade is a long-range liability: In 27 games he had
attempted only 35 shots from beyond the arc and hit just 11. But
in the biggest game of the season--at then No. 9 Louisville on
Feb. 27--that didn't stop him from fearlessly taking, and making,
two trifectas during Marquette's comeback from a 19-point
deficit. The Golden Eagles won 78--73; Wade scored 19 of his 28
points in the second half, and he finished with eight rebounds
and seven assists. Last Saturday, Wade's team-leading 26 points
and 10 rebounds (including four clutch boards in the closing
minutes) helped Marquette beat Cincinnati 70--61 and clinch its
first Conference USA title.
Wade was not the only reason his team won that championship, had
a 23--4 record and was ranked No. 8 at week's end. But he was the
main one. While several other stars played at a rarefied level
this season, Dwyane Wade soared higher than any of them.
COLOR PHOTO: GREG NELSON WADING IN Forays to the hoop have made Wade a regular at the freethrow line.