PROVO — Only one player’s name was chanted in the Marriott Center during Saturday’s showdown between sixth-ranked Gonzaga and BYU.
It wasn’t BYU favorites Elijah Bryant or Yoeli Childs. Not Gonzaga standouts Johnathan Williams or Josh Perkins, either.
Perhaps surprisingly, considering how last season went for the football team, it wasn’t even former star quarterback Taysom Hill, who received a loud ovation when introduced on the big screen.
To quote the 100 or so rowdy Gonzaga fans who were loud and proud high up in the packed arena during Bulldogs’ 79-65 win: “JES-SE WADE! JES-SE WADE! JES-SE WADE!”
That would be the Kaysville native, former Davis High hoops star, 2015 Utah Mr. Basketball and current Gonzaga freshman Jesse Wade — all of which is harder to get into a catchy chant than his three-syllable name.
“I heard them,” Wade said with a big smile in an upbeat visitors locker room. “They’re awesome.”
In addition to the Gonzaga loyalists, Wade said about 100 friends and family members were there to root him on, even some BYU students. He personally rounded up 10 tickets for loved ones — and all the better that he actually saw some rare playing time in front of them.
“It was really cool just to be able to play in front of a bunch of friends and family and against a bunch of my friends,” Wade said. “A really cool experience for me.”
The Zag contingent welcomed Wade to Provo midway through the first half when the freshman made his first appearance in three games and for only the second time in nine games.
The 6-foot-1 backup point guard played four scoreless minutes, missing his only shot from 3-point range but grabbing one rebound. He almost had a steal, but before he could establish possession it was ripped out of his hands. McKay Cannon then assisted Dalton Nixon for a 3-pointer that sparked an 8-0 run and cut Gonzaga’s lead to 26-20. Wade then came back in for the final minute with the game well in hand.
While the Davis product chose to play for the Spokane, Washington, program after guard-heavy BYU offered his potential scholarship to Frank Jackson, a different Wade will soon don the Cougar colors. His sister, soccer standout Olivia Wade, signed with BYU's women's team and will enroll this fall.
Wade the soccer player was the 2016 5A MVP and a USA Today All-American first-team player in 2015. Having helped Davis win three straight titles, she’s expected to be one of BYU’s top players.
“She wasn’t here — she’s at a tournament for soccer — but I know she was repping GU tonight, for sure,” Jesse Wade said with a big grin, admitting there’s a fun BYU-Gonzaga rivalry between them. “I support her and love her so much. I’ll definitely cheer for her. I want her to be more successful than me.”
With his positive and selfless attitude, it’s easy to see why so many people cheered just to see him on the court.
Wade, who is averaging 1.6 points, 0.4 rebounds and 0.3 assists in 16 appearances, hadn’t played in two previous games and had only logged five minutes in eight games coming into this one. Having served in the LDS France Lyon Mission after high school — the same mission as BYU’s TJ Haws — Wade is soaking up the experience in his first collegiate season.
“I’ve got things that I’ve got to get better on, I’m working on,” he said. “I’m trying to learn from the great guys in front of me, trying to eat it up and not get discouraged.”
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said his first priority is to win this WCC regular-season finale, but the Zags coach also knew it would be fun to get Wade some playing time in his home state.
“He’s just a great kid who comes into a tough spot, hadn’t played basketball for a while,” Few said. “He’s got some seniors at the guard spot, some talented guys in front of him, and he’s still kind of figuring it out — but wonderful guy, wonderful teammate, the highest character. It’s been great to have him.”
Earlier this season, some Gonzaga students made a nice sign of respect toward Wade and his LDS religion. Co-eds were discouraged from wearing missionary outfits to playfully mock BYU. Wade has loved attending the private, Catholic school even while being of a different faith.
“It’s been awesome. It’s been such a cool experience,” he said. “The guys (teammates) are so cool about everything. They’re great.”