SAN JOSE, Calif. — Dean Wade must have anticipated all the questions, probably because they were the same ones he had asked himself for the past two weeks.
Just how had his two best seasons as a Kansas State basketball player so cruelly been taken away just as he was ready to take the national stage in the NCAA Tournament?
Speaking for the first time since injuring his right foot in the Wildcats' regular-season finale against Oklahoma — a game that gave K-State a share of the Big 12 championship and touched off a frenzied celebration at Bramlage Coliseum — Wade calmly addressed the injury and the disappointment while reflecting on a stellar career.
The 70-64 first-round loss to No. 13 seed UC Irvine at the SAP Center was especially difficult for Wade and fellow senior guards Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes, who had helped lead the Wildcats to a No. 4 seed in the South Regional.
"This loss is the end of a great, great time in Barry, Kam and I's lives," Wade, a two-time all-Big 12 selection, said of their third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. "You've just got to get over the pain and let this one sink in.
"What we did here was amazing, obviously. It sucks that we didn't go farther this year, but you can't say 'What if' and you've just got to look back on all the good stuff we did (and) everything we brought to the program."
The Wildcats appeared to be ready to make some NCAA Tournament noise at nearly full strength after they reached the Elite Eight last year sans Wade. Wade, who hurt the right foot in December and missed six games, plus was hobbled for many more, seemed to be back close to normal at the end.
Then came the Oklahoma game that went from the highest high to one of heartbreak for Wade in the span of 12 hours.
"I knew after the Oklahoma game what it was, (but) I didn't know how bad it was," Wade said of the first-half injury that did not keep him from playing the second half. "It was one of those things where I was still pumped up on adrenaline, it wasn't swelling up that bad and it wasn't doing anything where I couldn’t play on it.
"As long as I kept playing, I'd be fine, but as soon as I stopped playing, it got pretty bad. The next day I couldn't even walk."
Wade did not specify what exactly it was, but confirmed that it wasn't the same tendon damage that had kept him out initially.
"It was tough," Wade said. "I couldn't do anything. I tried everything and you can't do anything for it. It sucked, two years in a row getting the tournament taken away from me, just kind of sucks, but life isn't fair."
Stokes, who missed much of last year with a broken foot last year before returning at less-than-full strength and struggled with the same foot this season, empathized.
"It was tough," Stokes said. "It sucks. I know what it feels like not being able to play, and I didn't sit out the NCAA Tournament last year, but he did two years straight."
K-State coach Bruce Weber repeatedly spoke of how cruel Wade's fate was, but was steadfast in his determination not to risk Wade's future.
"Coach Weber does such a great job of developing you as a person, developing us from kids into young men," Wade said. "To respect everyone (and) be good to every person. I think that's the biggest part of how I want to be remembered."
Wade also will be remembered, along with Brown and Stokes, for turning around a struggling Wildcat program. Arriving as a skinny, 6-foot-10 freshman from St. John, he bonded quickly with the other two, though success was not immediate.
The Wildcats were coming off a 15-17 season in 2014-15 and went 17-16 with a 5-13 Big 12 record the year they arrived. But they improved to 21-14 the next year and made the NCAA Tournament, then went 25-12 last season with a 10-8 league record before finishing 25-9 this year and 14-4 in the conference.
"Man, light-year's difference; it's unbelievable," Wade said of the transformation. "When we came in my freshman year, we were the lowest of lows. The fans didn't even like us."
It only served to make Wade, Brown and Stokes that much more determined to succeed.
"We're us now, and we've got to turn this around now or we're going to be hated forever," Wade remembered thinking at the time. "We came in and I think we really changed the culture. Everyone is on our side now. What we've done this year is amazing and it sucks right now — it stings — but what we've done this season is awesome."
Wade said the timetable for his recovery would have him ready to go again in May, hopefully to pursue a professional career in the NBA.
"I don't know what the next chapter in my life is going to be like," he said. "I'd love to play basketball as long as I can."