SAN JOSE, Calif. — If Dean Wade's Kansas State basketball career is over, it's a hard-luck story that not only may leave him, but also the Wildcats, wondering for a long time what might have been.
K-State coach Bruce Weber cast serious doubt on Wade's NCAA Tournament prospects Tuesday as the team prepared to depart Manhattan for Friday's first-round game in San Jose.
"He's made some progress, but I would say he's doubtful," Weber said before boarding the team charter. "We can't put him in jeopardy.
"He'd love to play. It's not him at all, but the injury was more severe than we ever anticipated and it's going to take a little time."
The Wildcats (25-8), seeded fourth in the South Regional, face No. 13 UC Irvine (30-5) at 1 p.m. Central time Friday at SAP Center. The winner of that game faces either No. 5 Wisconsin or No. 12 Oregon on Sunday.
The injury to Wade's right foot was diagnosed as a partially torn tendon when it forced him to miss six games in December and January, including K-State's first three Big 12 contests. He had some setbacks after his return but continued to play through it, including a Big 12 championship-clinching victory over Oklahoma in the regular-season finale.
But Wade reinjured the foot late in the first half of that game, and while he played most of the second half he experienced soreness immediately after and it only got worse.
"I think so much adrenaline and wanting to win the Big 12 championship," Weber said of Wade's ability to finish up on senior night and enjoy the postgame celebration that followed. "I was with him after and it was hurting.
"He had so many issues and that next morning, though, it was not doing well and it's just sad. Sad for him, and my heart goes out to him and obviously it affects our team, but for him two years in a row not being able to play in the NCAA."
Wade, who is second on the team in scoring with 12.9 points a game and first in rebounding at 6.2, has been star crossed in the postseason. He missed all but part of one game last year during the Wildcats' Elite Eight NCAA run and both games in last week's Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
In his career so far, Wade has appeared in just three of six NCAA games, with two coming his sophomore year, when K-State beat Wake Forest in a play-in game before being bounced by Cincinnati in the first round.
Last year, he missed victories over Creighton and UMBC, then played just eight minutes against Kentucky, contributing four points and a rebound to the 61-58 Sweet 16 upset of the Wildcats before missing a season-ending loss to Loyola Chicago. He has not made a postseason appearance since.
The Wildcats did experience success last year without Wade, plus beat TCU and led Iowa State late last week before falling in the Big 12 semifinals.
The return of all five starters, led by all-Big 12 first-team picks Wade and Barry Brown plus fellow senior Kamau Stokes, sent the Wildcats into this season with high hopes. And despite injuries to Wade, Stokes and sixth man Cartier Diarra, they delivered a share of the Big 12 title.
Stokes said he still feels a sense of urgency in his last go-round, whether that includes Wade or not.
"It's either win or go home, and that's what we're emphasizing right now — how much we want to stay alive in the tournament," Stokes said Sunday after the NCAA bracket was announced. "So we've got to prepare for a tough game Friday."
Unlike their previous two visits to the tournament, the Wildcats had no concerns of making the tournament this year. But Stokes downplayed the pressure of being a favorite, pointing out that the Wildcats were chased at the top of the Big 12 standings most of the season.
"Right now, I don't feel any different because we've been hunted all year," he said. "So it doesn't feel different at all.
"If we do what we need to do and are supposed to do, then there won't be any disappointments."
Weber did not completely rule Wade out for the rest of the tournament, but he was not optimistic. Wade was in a boot and on crutches when he arrived at the airport.
"He's moving a little better without pain," Weber said. "They still have him in a boot.
"Dean's off and on, on crutches just to ease the pain and he's doing treatment. He was in there today a couple, two-three times and they're trying their best, but it is what it is. We can't do much about it."
Regardless of the outcome, Weber lamented Wade's misfortune in what he had hoped would be a banner year.
"I've told so many people that he never got to show what he can do his whole senior year because it's been so hodgepodge with the injuries and not practicing and that," Weber said. "And just hope in the long haul he can get healthy and give it a shot for his professional career down the road."