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.