One day, Jesse Wade will wear the blue and red of Gonzaga University and step onto the basketball court in front of thousands of roaring fans.
Before that, the Utah native will don a white shirt, suit and tie and walk the streets of Lyon, France, sharing his faith as a full-time missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Today, Wade is a standout senior point guard for Davis High School in Kaysville, UT., north of Salt Lake. He runs the offense for the Darts, a program with a rich tradition that includes seven state championships. Along with pinpoint passes, swarming defense and a textbook jump shot, Wade is known for his unrelenting effort, according to Davis head coach Chad Sims.
“His work ethic is what really sets Jesse apart,” Sims said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s practice or a game, he’s going to outwork everyone.”
When he reaches the college level, Wade will join a tradition at Gonzaga known for a similar approach. Utilizing a unique blend of talent and sheer determination, the men’s basketball program has reached the NCAA tournament 16 years in a row and won 14 of the last 15 West Coast Conference regular season championships.
As a kid, Wade remembers going to the Huntsman Center on the University of Utah campus with his family when Gonzaga played the first two rounds of the 2006 NCAA tournament in Salt Lake.
“I went home and started shooting on the Nerf hoop,” he said. “I love Gonzaga. They’re such a good program and the school’s great. They have such high standards.”
Last March, Wade was back at the Huntsman Center, only this time as part of a Davis squad that faced off against eventual 5A champion, Lone Peak. As a junior, Wade earned first-team, all-conference and all-state honors.
At right around 6 feet tall, Wade doesn’t tower over his opponents, he simply finds a way around or over them on his way to the basket. He is currently averaging 27 points, four assists and three steals a game despite opposing defenses keyed to stop him. Wade will attempt to join the honor roll of undersized Gonzaga point guards, including John Stockton, Dan Dickau, Jeremy Pargo and Kevin Pangos, who all established themselves as dynamic catalysts for the program’s up-tempo offense.
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said Wade will bring a sharp grasp of the game when he arrives on campus.
“He’s a high-character guy who really fits the program,” Few told gozags.com after Wade officially signed with the Zags on Nov. 12, 2014.
Few and the coaching staff also understand that Wade will not call the Inland Northwest home until the 2017-18 season. He will leave for his mission after he graduates early from Davis in late April, serving in Lyon, a city of just under half-a-million residents in east-central France. Wade will head overseas having taken four years of French in high school.
“Everyone at Gonzaga has been totally supportive of my decision to serve a mission,” Wade said. “It’s been awesome.”
When Wade came to Spokane for his official visit in November, the trip included a Sunday stop at a local LDS chapel, arranged by Assistant Coach Donny Daniels.
“We had the opportunity to go to church when I was there,” said Wade who has relatives in Moses Lake. “I met the bishop. People were super-friendly. The Northwest is beautiful. I love Spokane. It already seems like a second home to me.”
Wade has also had the chance to meet the current Zags, now ranked third in the nation. He attended the BYU game at the McCarthey Athletic Center last year and was in the crowd for the SMU game this season. As has been the case for each game since “The Kennel” opened in 2004, the sold-out arena contained 6,000 rabid fans for both contests. Gonzaga currently owns the nation’s longest-home win streak at 36 games.
“The fans up there are amazing,” Wade said. “They live and breathe Gonzaga basketball.”
Along with talk of basketball, Wade’s future teammates inquired about the decision to spend two years away from his favorite game.
“They were way cool and understanding about it,” he said. “They asked questions and were very respectful.”
Wade knows that he won’t be spending much time working on his jump shot in France. Missionaries do set aside a weekly “preparation day” to wash clothes, buy groceries and exercise but the bulk of the agenda includes prayer, scripture study, knocking on doors and teaching gospel principles.
“I’m anticipating a lot of hard work and relying on the Lord,” Wade said. “I know it’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to serve a mission. If a college wasn’t going to be OK with that, I’d have to rule them out.”
Wade had scholarship offers from Utah State, Cal-Irvine and San Francisco. He also talked with representatives from BYU, Stanford, Utah and Harvard. Over the years, BYU has had no shortage of athletes take a two-year hiatus to serve somewhere in the world. Tyler Haws, the reigning West Coast Conference Most Valuable Player, shipped off to the Philippines before returning to Provo as a sophomore for the 2012-13 season.
“I have faith that everything is going to work out,” Wade said. “I know I’ll come back better than ever. I’ll just continue to work hard and improve.”
Coach Sims said the traits that have translated to Wade’s success at Davis High will carry over to the mission field.
“He’ll be a great missionary,” Sims said. “He’ll be driven just like he is on the basketball court. I know he’s looking forward to the work and talking to people about the gospel and the church. He sees it as an opportunity to serve and do things above and beyond basketball.”
A past president of his seminary class, Deacon’s and Teacher’s quorums, Wade is also an Eagle Scout and maintains a 3.97 grade point average. From basketball to church to the classroom, Wade said a positive outlook and consistent work ethic form his steadfast foundation.
“It’s like when something happens to you and you don’t think you can do anything about it, that’s when you need to rely on the Lord,” he said. “You can only control two things – how hard you work and the attitude you have about things.”
Before he trades his basketball jersey in for a missionary badge, Wade has some business to take care of on the court. Davis is 12-3 on the season and once again among the leading contenders for the state 5A crown.
“We’ve got a really good group this year,” Wade said. “We just have to keep working hard.”