Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Proud of Our Warrior


Given Dwyane Wade's ascendance to the top of the basketball world, I thought I'd look back at his beginnings as a Marquette Warrior, just to see how far he's come.

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, November 2, 1999 (his first mention):

It was really quite simple. Dwayne Wade telephoned his longtime Illinois Warriors teammate from Amateur Athletic Union basketball, Odartey Blankson, and together they reached the same conclusion. Marquette University was the school for both of them. So together, they made a three-way call to Tom Crean late Monday night to give him the news.

As a result, the Golden Eagles received their final two oral commitments from Wade, a 6-foot-4 guard from Oak Lawn Richards High School in suburban Chicago, and Blankson, a 6-6 guard from Hillcrest High, also in suburban Chicago. Wade and Blankson round out an MU recruiting class for next season that includes 6-9 center Scott Merritt of Wauwatosa East and 6-7 forward Terry Sanders, a former Milwaukee Vincent player now at Hargrave Military Prep School in Virginia.

Both Blankson and Wade, who have played with or against each other since the eighth grade, said they were being pursued by Marquette's Conference USA rival De Paul. But both opted for Marquette because they liked the persistence of first-year coach Crean, the chance to play at the Bradley Center and the opportunity to work out against the Milwaukee Bucks in the off-season during open gym. "I like the situation at Marquette," Blankson said. "Crean is really energetic. I know he is going to get it done."Blankson had been recruited by former MU coach Mike Deane and also by Notre Dame and Iowa State.

De Paul wanted Wade badly, and he liked the program and its players."But I felt I could fit in at Marquette better," Wade said. "I've been thinking about this for a while. Marquette is really trying to recruit good people."

Wade averaged 20 points at Richards, which made it to the Class AA sectional finals. He set a school record with 87 steals last season.

And the next day, this appeared:

Illinois prep basketball star Dwyane Wade has made an oral commitment to play at Marquette University next year. His name was spelled incorrectly in a story in the Sports section Tuesday.

Think they know how to spell it now?

Here's the first feature article on Wade in the Journal Sentinel, from February of 2000:

MARQUETTE'S TROPHY CATCH; Golden Eagles lure Wade from De Paul's grip
LORI NICKEL of the Journal Sentinel staff

Oak Lawn, Ill.-- It's good business to have Quentin Richardson serve as your leading scorer, rebounder and big buddy for recruits, especially when he's the hero for so many Chicago-area hopefuls who are suddenly turned on by De Paul.

But even Richardson's charm couldn't reel in Oak Lawn Richards star Dwyane Wade. Wade wasn't wooed by the promise of playing time by the Blue Demons. He wasn't persuaded by his coach at Richards, Jack Fitzgerald, who is good friends with De Paul women's coach Doug Bruno. He wasn't even convinced by Richards assistant coach Gary Adams, once Richardson's grammar school coach, to stay at home. "I went somewhere I felt the coaches wanted me and the teammates wanted me," Wade
said.

So he signed the letter of intent to play at Marquette."De Paul really didn't jump on me as hard as Marquette did," Wade said. "I talked to all the Marquette coaches almost every other day. De Paul kind of laid off me a little bit, then they came back. They were playing tag with me."Of Marquette's four-man recruiting class expected to arrive next fall, Wade was the sleeper given his advanced skills and impressive on-court attitude. He wasn't in any recruiting expert's top 100 class a year ago. But it's obvious now what a find he was for Marquette coach Tom Crean.

Wade averages 27 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and five steals per game, partly because he is the star for Richards (21-4, 10-0 in the SICA North Conference). But he also hustles whether the Bulldogs are up by one point or 20. The Marquette coaching staff will fall in love with his backboard radar. He is always going after the boards and he has huge hands for scooping up rebounds, especially offensive ones."I
know (those are) easy points. I watch Quentin Richardson do it all the time," Wade said.

At 6 feet 4 inches, he can jump, so he can play on the blocks. He's versatile enough to play the point when teams try to trap Richards' small point guard. Yet Wade might be only a partial qualifier next year. If he doesn't get the necessary standardized test scores, he will be limited to just practice next season."I understand what the colleges are doing with this ACT stuff," Fitzgerald said. "But if there's any reason why standards should not be what they are, he's the reason. He came from a very, very poor grammar school elementary district (in Crestwood, Ill.)."He's worked hard to improve himself in every area, and yet he's maybe not going to be able to play basketball next year. He could cut it in any curriculum, with the exception of maybe the Ivy League schools, you know what I am saying? You talk to any teacher on this staff and they love him. He comes to school every day, he's working hard."I feel bad
that he is in that situation. That he could possibly be labeled a Prop 48 every time he takes a free throw, I think it's sad and I think it's ridiculous, and I'm resentful of it."

Wade took the ACT recently and will keep taking it. He is the only one in the Marquette recruiting class who presents a concern for qualifying. Scott Merritt of Wauwatosa East and Odartey Blankson of Hillcrest High in Country Club Hills, Ill., already have qualified, and Terry Sanders of Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., said he was very close.

Wade met future teammate Blankson at the Blue Island recreation center in Illinois, and they called Crean together back in the fall to tell him they were both signing on. Blankson's Hillcrest High was one of the few to defeat Richards this year. Wade's only limitation has been his knees, which have been painful because, he said, he is having growing pains. His jump shot needs work to become consistent, as well. Wade was 3 for 22 in one game this season, although he still came away with 15 points and 10 rebounds."He's kind of a streaky shooter," Fitzgerald said. "He either hits it or he clangs it."Every day last summer, Adams, a retired public schools teacher, picked up Wade and brought him to the hot gym for 500 to 600 shots a day. Wade scored 48 points in a morning semifinal game of the St. Xavier Christmas tournament. Then in the evening finals that same day, he scored 41."I was hot," Wade said with a laugh. "That was the day Marquette came to the game, too."

Wade was named the player of the month by the Chicago Tribune for January and has led the Bulldogs to a top-15 ranking in both the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times. He is also getting Chicago player of the year consideration.

This six year old article confirms what the sports world is starting to figure out now, and serves as a lesson about hard work and dedication. It's pretty clear that coming out of high school, Wade wasn't considered a top-tier recruit. He couldn't shoot, had bad knees, and wasn't a good student. But he was good natured and hard working, and it eventually paid off. Through hard work over the years, he has made himself into a premier NBA player, and one of the league's most respected spokesmen.

And not to get too sappy about it, but Wade is really the type of player that reflects the Milwaukee ethos well. He's self made, hard working, humble, and the best at what he does. I can't think of another athlete I would rather call our own.

And yes, he will likely need a restraining order against me.