Bad-mouth Dwyane Wade around Tom Crean at your own risk.
Wade, of course, is the Miami Heat superstar battling the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. Crean is his former college coach at Marquette who now guides the Indiana Hoosiers.
The 31-year-old Wade gets hammered that he's too old; that he's a take-it-to-the-rim player who can't take it to the rim anymore; that he lacks a perimeter game; that he disappears too often in a LeBron James-dominated Heat world.
No way, Crean says.
“He takes a lot of unwarranted, unmerited, unsubstantiated criticism. I don't think anybody who isn't around him all the time realizes how injured he is now and how injured he was a year ago. You rarely ever hear him bring any light to it. You don't hear him lash out. He continues to play and to work. He tells the truth and makes himself better. He has great, great qualities.”
Wade, who has battled knee injuries over the last two years, averaged 21.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists during the regular season. He averaged 13.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists during the first two playoff rounds. He averaged 15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists against the Indiana Pacers.
In a Game 6 loss to the Pacers, Wade was 3 for 11 from the field for 10 points, two rebounds and one assist. In the Game 7 series finale, he had 21 points and nine rebounds.
He is a big reason why Miami is positioned to win a second straight NBA championship.
Crean is a big fan, and not just because Wade led Crean's 2005 Marquette team to the Final Four.
“I'm always proud of him, even when he doesn't play well,” Crean says. “It's a different relationship. I've known him for 14 years. When you have a relationship like that, you hate to see him struggle. You like to see him be successful.”
The fact Wade's success helped end the Pacers' season wasn't much of a conflict for Crean, a self-proclaimed Pacers fan.
“I love what (the Pacers) are doing with their team,” Crean says. “At the same time, I want to see Dwyane do well. I thought (in Monday night's Game 7 win over Indiana) he did what he does best, which is make his teammates better. He really got after it defensively.
“It doesn't matter how old you are, whether you're Victor Oladipo at 21 or Dwyane Wade at 31, when you put your focus on what it takes and what your main strengths are, especially when have a guy like Dwyane who is so good defensively and so good at making his teammates better, when you put that focus in the game, it's amazing how the rest of your game is affected.”
Wade had 17 points in Thursday night's series-opening loss to San Antonio.