When Head Coach Shaka Smart hired Will Wade in 2009, all he could
talk about was Wade’s work ethic.
After three seasons in Richmond, everyone associated with VCU Basketball knows why. Wade’s relentless work ethic has helped land VCU three of the top non-BCS recruiting class in the country according to numerous publications.
His hard work and dedication has paid off in a boatload of wins for the Black and Gold. In three seasons with the Rams, Wade has helped guide VCU to the most wins, 84, in any three-year span in school history. The 84 wins are the eighth-most in the country over the past three seasons.
Every season that Wade has been on the sideline for VCU has seen the Rams reach the postseason, including back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2011 and 2012. Not to mention one of the most historic runs in college basketball history when the Black & Gold reached the Final Four in 2011.
“I came here because I knew the tradition that came with the VCU Basketball program,” Wade said. “I just want to do everything possible to continue that success, while taking this program to even greater heights.”
The first call Smart made after accepting the VCU job was to Wade.
“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. 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 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. In 2008-09, 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.
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.”