Editor’s Note: This feature on Will Wade originally ran in April of 2009. Wade was named VCU head coach Tuesday.
Distance from Boston to Richmond: 555 miles.
Approximate cost of one-way flight on Jet Blue: $200.
Time to pack: Five hours.
Chance to work with Shaka Smart at VCU: Priceless.
On April 1, the day before his introductory press conference, Shaka Smart gave Will Wade, an assistant coach at Harvard, the opportunity to join his staff at VCU. Wade didn’t need long to think it over.
“He called me around noon and said, ‘It’s done’, and I was on an 8:40 flight that evening,” Wade said. “I think I landed about 11 p.m., and then we met until 3 a.m.”
It wasn’t completely a blind leap of faith. The 26-year-old Wade and Smart had known each other for years. Although they had met previously, Smart and Wade forged a close friendship during the 2006-07 season at Clemson. That year, Smart was serving as an assistant coach, while Wade was the director of operations on Oliver Purnell’s staff.
“We hit it off,” Wade said. “We were both very involved with our players, so our paths just crossed a lot. We have a lot of the same core beliefs and many of the same ways of doing things.”
For Smart, the decision to make Wade his first hire at VCU was a no-brainer.
“There’s that saying, ‘don’t work harder, work smarter.’ Well, Will works harder and smarter,” Smart said. “He struck me as the hardest working guy I knew. His attention to detail is second to none, and he’s really good at developing relationships. I knew that Will was someone we had to have on staff here.”
During their days at Clemson and in the years since, Wade and Smart would occasionally kick around the idea of working together again if one of them secured a head coaching job.
“We’d joke about stuff like that, but I don’t think we’d ever take it seriously,” said Wade. “This is a crazy business. You never know what’s going to happen down the line. But we had a mutual respect for what each other did.”
When the opportunity actually did arise, neither man hesitated. It was an easy decision for both, not just because of their friendship, but rather, their shared philosophies.
“The first thing is that Coach Smart wants to win with character kids,” Wade said. “He wants guys who are character first. We call them winning guys, whether it’s on the court or off the court. He wants to do things the right way, which always struck a chord with me.”
In addition to their similar ideals, Wade came with an impressive, albeit short, resume.
During Wade’s first season at Harvard, where he served as the program’s recruiting coordinator, the Crimson landed one of the top 25 classes in the country, according to ESPN.com. Last season, Harvard finished 14-14, its first .500 campaign since 2001-02. The 14 victories were also the tied for the Crimson’s most since 1995-96.
“We just weren’t afraid to recruit the best student athletes we could find there,” Wade said. “We felt like we had a great product, from our head coach, to our institution, to our basketball program. We felt confident with that and we were willing to go after kids that maybe, traditionally, Harvard hadn’t gone after.”
Wade effectively spent six years with the Clemson basketball program from 2001-07, four as a student manager, plus one each as a graduate assistant and director of operations.
A native of Nashville, Tenn., Wade grew up with a passion for basketball and a work ethic inspired by his father, Frank, an insurance salesman, and his mother, Margaret, the head of a private school. However, physical talent doesn’t always cooperate with desire. When it became obvious that there wasn’t much of a need at the college level for 6-foot-4 post players, Wade decided to take another path.
After graduating high school in 2001, Wade headed to Clemson, where he could major in secondary education and also work as a student manager. The original plan was to eventually become a high school coach and teacher, but college plans have always been fluid. Wade’s total commitment to the game eventually led him to pursue coaching in the college arena.
“I’m never truly away from it,” Wade said. “I’m always thinking about it, working on something. I keep a pad next to my bed, and I might wake up at one in the morning and write something down.”