What a difference a year makes.
Just ask Mark Wade, playmaking point guard of the Metropolitan Conference basketball champion El Camino Warriors.
Two years ago, Wade was a force in Banning High School's dramatic 62-61 upset of heavily favored Crenshaw in the Los Angeles City 4-A championship game. He was on everyone's all-league team. And last year he had a shot at stardom alongside Olympian and All-American Wayman Tisdale at the University of Oklahoma.
Last year, however, is not one Wade would like to remember.
He was overwhelmed by academic pressures and had great difficulty adjusting to the physical brand of basketball played in the Big Eight Conference.
Advice: Play for El Camino
After playing in just six games for the Sooners, he needed a change.
On the advice of Eric Caine, the junior varsity coach at Banning, Wade transferred to El Camino this year to regroup academically and to play under Warrior Coach Paul Landreaux.
This has been a year he is not likely to forget.
Not only has Wade nearly completed his general education studies, but he has led El Camino to a 14-0 league record (29-1 overall) and a berth in the state championship tournament this week in Fresno.
Metro coaches named Wade the league's player of the year.
What turned this Tiny Archibald play-alike from a bench-warming freshman into one of the most heavily recruited junior college athletes in the country?
'I've Matured So Much'
"Coach Landreaux's the reason," Wade said. "His guidance and the way he taught me as a person, not just a player. I've matured so much in the past year. I don't think I can ever thank him enough."
Landreaux shrugged off the credit.
"Mark is a great player and a fine young man. I just helped him see what he needed to do. He's done the hard work to get there."
His work on the basketball court is evident. The electrifying left-handed playmaker dished out 305 assists, an average of 10.1 a game. The next closest Metro player had only about a third as many. Landreaux knows how that translates on the scoreboard.
"Those assists are points," Landreaux said. "Mark not only throws passes with supreme accuracy, but he sets his teammates up for lay-ups and dunks instead of 15-foot jumpers."
Assault on Record Book
The statistics bear out Landreaux. El Camino shot 64.2% from the floor in Metro and 61.9% overall, numbers that have sent league and state statisticians scrambling through the record books.
"Shooting that kind of percentage is incredible," Landreaux said. "We had one kid, Dwayne Lewis, shoot over 70% from the field. I've never heard of a player shooting like that anywhere. And it all comes back to Mark."
Wade now reflects on his Oklahoma nightmare as a learning experience.
"I think the situation at Oklahoma, what I went through, just helped me grow as a person. When I took my recruiting visit there, I saw Wayman Tisdale play. He was a freshman, 17 years old, but none of the sophomores, juniors or seniors could handle him.
"I think that set the tone for me. I really thought I was going to play like that with Wayman and Oklahoma."
He Was Battered
However, the rougher play in major college basketball began to take its toll on the slim, 5-11 Wade.
"The point guard who played ahead of me was very physically developed. Since they allow more bumping and pushing back there than I was used to in high school, I really took a lot of physical abuse."
Halfway through a humbling year, Wade came to grips with the situation and quit basketball.
"I wasn't happy with myself, either academically or athletically, and I just felt like I needed a change.
"When I came home in March for spring break, I got in touch with Coach Caine at Banning. I told him I was unhappy and that I was thinking about coming home. He felt that going to El Camino and playing for Coach Landreaux couldn't do anything but help me. And that's what's happened."
'Mark Is the Catalyst'
With Wade leading the way, El Camino has stormed to California's top ranking and is heavily favored to capture Landreaux's second state crown in his six years at the school.
"There's no question that Mark is the catalyst," Landreaux said. "That's why the coaches voted him MVP."
Landreaux isn't the only basketball coach who covets Wade's talent. Wade has indicated his desire to attend an NCAA Division I school next year.
After wading through dozens of offers, he has narrowed his choice to Providence and Nevada-Las Vegas. Wade said that UNLV has the inside track but that he has yet to visit Providence.
Tarkanian Wants Him
UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said he would love to have Wade direct his Runnin' Rebels next season.
"Mark is an exciting point guard who can run up and down the floor," Tarkanian said. "This is the kind of player we like at UNLV.
"We'd never promise a starting role to anyone. But he'd definitely get a shot at it, and with his athletic abilities he'd certainly have a legitimate opportunity."
For the present, Mark Wade is content to savor this season's success.