BRADENTON, Fla. — Shaun Wade picked up his first ball at age 4, but it wasn’t the pigskin.
Football has always taken a back seat to another sport for Wade, the nation’s No. 2 cornerback and a 5-star recruit.
“Basketball was my first love,” Wade told SEC Country. “It still is.”
Wade didn’t grow up just playing pickup games for fun. His commitment to basketball was year-round and took him to tournaments across the country.
“I’ve been playing AAU since I was kid,” Wade said. “I wanted to be the next Allen Iverson. I really took it serious. I did football as well, but I just played basketball more and I always like it better.
“I’m an assist guy. I can score when I want to, but I pass the ball really well.”
Wade’s athleticism and court vision allowed him to excel as a point guard, and in middle school he was projected to become one of the Sunshine State’s top prospects at his position.
“He used to be ranked high as a seventh-grader,” said Gerard Ross, defensive coordinator at Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, Fla. “We had a player similar to him, Isaiah Ford, who was really good and went through the same situation. He battled whether he should play football or basketball.”
Ford famously fielded a last-minute call from former Florida coach Will Muschamp on signing day, but the receiver chose to attend Virginia Tech because he could be a two-sport athlete there. Ford never made it on the court for the Hokies, but he did set the single-season school records for receptions and touchdowns last year.
Ross wanted Wade to come to that realization sooner than Ford.
“Coach Ross sat me down after my eighth-grade season,” said Wade, who played varsity basketball that year. “He pulled out a stat book and showed me all these cornerbacks who got drafted in the first or second round. They made super good money, so I had to think about that.”
Though Wade gave it some thought, he wasn’t sold on the idea right away. But reality started to set in a year later.
“The spring of my freshman year I got like five offers in one week. Ohio State, Clemson, a few others,” said Wade, who initially planned to transfer to a basketball school as a sophomore. “I sat back and was like, ‘Man, football is my blessing. I gotta somehow put that orange ball down.’ It was hard to grasp.”
It came as no surprise to Ross, who knew Wade had the skill set to be an elite corner. And he reminded him with each new offer that came.
“I used to mess around,” Ross said, “and I’d ask him, ‘You still want to play basketball?’ But he was a great point guard, and that’s how I knew he could play cornerback. It takes footwork and agility to cross people over like he could, so his abilities translated well to football.
“When you’re a 6-foot-2 corner in a Power Five conference, the odds are much better for you in the NFL draft. NBA only has two rounds. But basketball is a sport where if you play it all your life, it’s tough to give up. So it was hard convincing him, but he’s starting to buy into it.”
Wade hasn’t completely bought in yet, though. He currently plays for an Orlando team called ‘Each 1 Teach 1’ in the Nike EYBL, the top high school basketball league in the nation.
He is teammates with small forward Kevin Knox and power forward Emmitt Williams, the No. 7 and No. 14-ranked overall prospects, respectively, in the ESPN 100.
“I go against the best of the best,” Wade said. “We played against Thon Maker, who was just drafted (10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks) last week.”
— The Buckeye Nut (@TheBuckeyeNut) March 27, 2016
In March, Wade made a dunk in the Disney Easter Classic that went viral (see above). He could have played college basketball at a mid-major school, but his football recruitment scared off potential suitors.
“Florida Gulf Coast and Western Kentucky came after me. Miami sent some letters,” Wade said. “A few schools called me and I talked to them, but once they found out what football offers I had, they hung up pretty quick.”
Wade said this is the first year he has focused on football more than hoops, and he won’t play for his high school basketball team as a senior because he plans to enroll in college early. He’ll try to make up for it this summer.
“This dude still wants to be a basketball player now,” Ross said. “He just played in a tournament a couple weeks ago. I told him, ‘You’re an idiot.’ But hey, let the kid live his dreams. He knows football is his future.”
Wade is currently committed to Ohio State, but still considering Alabama and Florida. He said college will be “easy money” for him.
“I can go the league in football and make money for my future family, so I just gotta do what I gotta do,” Wade said. “Hopefully when I’m in the NFL, it’ll be funny to think back to me wanting to play basketball. But it will always be my first love.
“If I want to coach after I’m done playing, I’ll choose basketball over football.”
Unless otherwise indicated, ratings and rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow @ZachAbolverdi