Leading the nation in assists--and breaking many records in the process--leaves Mark Wade of the top-ranked University of Nevada at Las Vegas feeling exultant, but there was a time when he felt anything but.
The 5-11, 160-pound senior point guard last week tied the regular-season NCAA season assist record of 328, established last year by St. John's Mark Jackson. Wade already held the NCAA game record of 21 attained against Navy this season and UNLV's single-season record of 296 assists. He also broke Hofstra's Rob Weingard's 1985 NCAA season assist average of 9.5 per game. Wade averages 10.7.
After leading Banning High to a state championship in 1983 with a 61-60 victory over Crenshaw and John Williams, now property of the Washington Bullets, Wade became a popular commodity and college recruiters raced to him and "promised him the world," he said.
"I thought I was Mr. Everything--a city hotshot who could play anywhere."
Las Vegas wasn't Wade's first choice. It was Oklahoma, and for one and only one reason. Wade had visions of dishing the ball to 6-10 All-American Waymond Tisdale, now an Indiana Pacer, but it didn't work out that way.
He spent most of his first year at Oklahoma mired in Sooner Coach Billy Tubbs' doghouse.
Wade missed a preseason practice and violated another team rule.
The two mistakes cost him dearly.
"After Coach Tubbs found out about the rule I violated, he never really gave me a second chance."
Besides not getting to play in the "biggest of routs," Wade didn't even get to suit up for some games.
"It got to the point where I couldn't handle it anymore," Wade said. "Once, I actually had to call the team manager because the coach wouldn't tell me if I was suiting up for the game.
"The Sooners had a senior point guard, and it was a situation where I wasn't in the right place at the right time."
So he quit.
"At Oklahoma I hit rock bottom," Wade said.
But the next year Wade was a state champ again, this time at the community college level with the El Camino Warriors. At the helm of the 33-1 team, Wade was California's community college player of the year, and he led the state in assists with 10.1 a game.
"Going to El Camino really turned my life back around, and I grew up a lot."
Wade said he learned a few important things: "I knew how important basketball is--and realize basketball wouldn't lead me to the Promised Land."
The assist king said he liked Vegas' fast tempo and that the Runnin' Rebels needed a running mate for Freddie Banks.
But, the tempo wasn't the only reason he chose UNLV. Wade, a hotel management major, said: "The job opportunities here are incredible, especially with the spotlight a UNLV player gets. This is definitely the right place for me at the right time."
With the rebels 26-1, Wade has a chance to win his third championship--this time on a national level--and it would give him a championship on each level he's played.
Can the Rebels do it? "Sure," Wade said. "We still haven't played a game where we've peaked on offense and defense together. When we do peak it's going to be unreal."
The Rebels' only loss was at Oklahoma, 89-88. UNLV beat the Sooners earlier in the season, 83-78, and Wade had 14 assists, 5 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals.
"It was the most excited I've ever been about a game. I just wanted to show the coaches, players and everybody affiliated with Oklahoma that they made a mistake by letting me go."
That's the type of person Wade is.
"The moment I relax and don't give 100%, then I'm not a very good player."
UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said Wade is "the type of kid every coach would love to have running his ballclub."
And then Tarkanian listed his co-captain's assets: "He works hard, is a great leader and defender, is very coachable, gets along with everyone and has incredible court vision, but he needs to shoot more often."
But Wade, who averages just 6 points on a team whose norm is 95, says, "We have the greatest athletes here and it's not a necessity for me to shoot."
Teammates say his passes are always in the right place at the right time.
Just like Mark Wade is now.