Rebels legend Mark Wade heading to UNLV Hall

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Head coach Jerry Tarkanian and player Mark Wade during a 1986-1987 season game.

Mark Wade still remembers the best pass he ever threw as a Runnin’ Rebel.

It came in the biggest game of his career, a Final Four matchup against Indiana in 1987. Wade was in the process of dishing out an NCAA-record 18 assists in that contest, but one dime in particular stands out in his mind all these years later.

After surveying the Indiana defense from the wing, he bounced a simple left-handed roll pass to big man Arman Gilliam in the post. Gilliam anticipated the angle of the entry pass, pivoted to catch it and went straight up for an easy jump hook.

It was just another bucket for the high-scoring Runnin’ Rebels, and it certainly wasn’t the flashiest play made that day, but to Wade, it still signifies what made those UNLV teams great.

“It was a simple play,” Wade said. “We threw that pass every day in practice. People who don’t know the game probably wouldn’t understand why, but that was the best pass I ever threw. We were just so in sync as a team. Arman knew where I was going to put the ball, and the timing was perfect. There was just a connection between us. It was an unspoken thing. For it to flow together, at that moment, on that stage, he knew and I knew, and that’s what basketball is all about when it’s being played at its highest level.”

Wade reached that level consistently during his two years as a Rebel, and on Thursday the school will recognize his achievements by inducting him into the UNLV Hall of Fame.

It’s a deserved honor for Wade, who defined the point guard position under legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian. A supremely gifted passer with uncanny vision, Wade proved to be the perfect floor general for Tark’s chaotic, open-court attack. Playing alongside greats like Gilliam and Freddie Banks, Wade racked up assists by the dozen and led the Rebels to a 70-7 record during his two seasons.

Wade was happy to get the call to the hall.

“After 30 years, I didn’t think it would happen,” Wade said. “But it’s something I really wanted. When they called and told me I was being inducted into the Hall of Fame, I was overcome by emotion.”

Though he played just two years at UNLV after transferring from Oklahoma, Wade still owns the assists section of the Rebels’ record book. His 406 assists in 1986-87 are still a program best, and his high of 21 helpers against Navy in December 1986 is probably safe for the foreseeable future.

Banks, who was on the receiving end of many of Wade’s passes, is happy to see his old backcourt mate getting the recognition he deserves.

“We were roommates back then, so he always knew where I was going to be, on and off the court,” Banks said with a laugh. “He would find you no matter where you were, and he could throw a bullet from one end of the court to the other. He was a phenomenal passer. He deserves to be in [the UNLV Hall of Fame], so I’m glad he’s going in. I’m proud to be his friend, his brother and his teammate.”

Wade’s induction into the UNLV Hall of Fame may cement his legacy as an all-time great Runnin’ Rebel, but he was already indelibly linked to Las Vegas by playing such a big role on some of the most memorable teams in program history. The Hall of Fame just makes it official.

“Anytime I come back to Las Vegas, there’s always a connection,” Wade said. “What those teams had was very special. We bonded like a family and we played for each other and for the university and for the fans. To be recognized for that — to know that they still care — that means a lot.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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