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Dwyane Wade has come long way

Dwyane Wade Hehave upper hconference finals. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Dwyane Wade and the Heat have the upper hand in the conference finals. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 3, 2011 1:00PM

Dwyane Wade wasn’t shooting enough.

It was 1999, and the Richards High School basketball team was playing in a Christmas tournament. Then-coach Jack Fitzgerald wasn’t pleased with his senior guard.

‘‘He was out there passing and stuff,’’ said Fitzgerald, now a fifth-year scout for the Miami Heat. ‘‘I had to call a timeout and tell him: ‘This isn’t an equal-opportunity offense, pal. You need to shoot the ball. Your teammates aren’t capable of scoring like you are. Get going and start scoring.’  ’’

Wade scored 90 points in the two games that day — 42 in the first, 48 in the second.

That was the day Fitzgerald knew he had a special player. But it wasn’t simply because of Wade’s ridiculous numbers. It was more about the culmination of a high school career in which Wade put in his time and took his licks.

Wade is one of the Heat’s Big Three these days, but he didn’t even make the varsity team as a high school sophomore. Richards was loaded with seniors, including Wade’s stepbrother Demetris McDaniel, and Wade was still an unproven talent.

Wade, though, maintained a quiet confidence and used the opportunity to grow — as a person and as a player.

‘‘He knew he could play varsity, but that wasn’t the question,’’ said McDaniel, now an assistant coach at Richards. ‘‘The question was how [much] he would play [on] varsity. He would only get a couple of minutes with the varsity, but he got all the minutes and scored all the points on the sophomore team. That’s when he really turned into a player.’’

Wade, who graduated from Richards in 2000, now finds himself playing against his hometown Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals. The Heat brings a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 tonight at the United Center.

Wade, 29, excited Chicago fans last summer when he met with Bulls executives to discuss signing with the team as a free agent. But when he re-signed with the Heat and lured LeBron James and Chris Bosh to form the Big Three, he became the enemy.

‘‘He just wanted somebody to play with,’’ Fitzgerald said. ‘‘All of this stuff about him playing the Bulls is a bunch of crap. He was serious about going somewhere to win. To vilify him is crazy.

‘‘It was a hard decision
because he loved Chicago. He was a big Bulls fan, a big
Michael Jordan fan. He got a lot of pressure from his friends and family to look at Chicago seriously. That was no joke.’’

Though Wade didn’t sign with the Bulls, he hasn’t forgotten about the city. He routinely gives back to Richards and visits the school each offseason.

Wade and T-Mobile donated $150,000 to renovate the high school gym in 2007. He also filmed a Converse commercial at Richards and
invited students to be in it. And when Richards made the state-title game in 2008, Wade flew up to watch it.

‘‘Our students have been given a lot of opportunities that normal students don’t get,’’ Richards coach John Chappetto said. ‘‘It seems like every few months, something comes up that’s another opportunity for us because of Dwyane.’’

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