UWGB men’s basketball makes home-run hire with coach Sundance Wicks | Green Bay Press-Gazette

GREEN BAY – This is not normal.

Nothing about the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay men’s basketball team under rookie coach Sundance Wicks has been conventional this season.

A Phoenix group picked to finish last in the Horizon League remained atop the standings Thursday after a 79-56 win over IUPUI in front of 5,490 at the Resch Center, its third straight victory and 10th in the last 12 games.

Wicks became the ninth coach in program history when he was hired in March, and he already has more wins than five of those coaches had in their debut season with the Phoenix at 15-9 overall, 10-3 in league play.

His 15 wins are better than the nine Dick Lien had in 1982-83. Much better than the five legendary coach Dick Bennett won in 1985-86, the 10 from Tod Kowalczyk in 2002-03, the 14 by Brian Wardle in 2010-11 and the eight from Will Ryan in 2020-21.

He is one win shy of tying Dave Buss, who started the program in 1969, although there is work to be done to catch Mike Heideman (25 wins) or Linc Darner (23), both of whom led the Phoenix to the NCAA Tournament in their first year.

Perhaps what makes Wicks’ journey a little more impressive is that he didn’t take over talented teams like those that were left to Heideman or Darner.

He all but started from scratch building a roster, and considering the Phoenix won a combined 16 games the previous three seasons, hoping for 10 wins this season seemed like a best-case scenario.

That seems so foolish now.

A team that went 3-29 last season has put itself in the conversation for the best one-year turnaround in Division I men’s basketball history, which is the 17½ game improvement by Towson after it went from 1-31 in 2011-12 to 18-13 the following season.

“I don’t think anybody expected this fast a turnaround,” UWGB athletic director Josh Moon said. “But knowing Sunny, I think I first talked to him in 2011, knowing who he is and how he would attack this, it’s not surprising.”

The victories are what receives the most attention, but it’s been so much more for a school that must win the margins.

Grades in the classroom were less than inspiring last season. This team responded by earning a 3.25 grade-point average in the first semester, the second-highest mark in program history.

Wicks’ outreach in the community is exactly what Moon knew he’d bring, from his energy to his attitude.

His attention to detail also is noticed every time he attends a meeting and there is a notebook in his hand.

“I think we said from Day 1 that it’s all about who has the best plan,” Moon said. “This is what his plan is. The magnitude of the turnaround is surprising, but he is built for something like this.”

Even those outside the program knew something good was happening at UWGB early on, even before the Phoenix really started to get in a groove this season.

UWGB lost at SIUE on Dec. 6 to fall to 4-5 overall.

SIUE coach and former UWGB assistant Brian Barone sent a text the following morning to offer his unsolicited take on Wicks.

“Sundance is going to win there,” Barone said. “I really think he’s doing a good job.”

Hoping for a long Sundance Wicks era

Wicks has needed less than a season to show he can hire a quality assistant staff, recruit talent, develop it, and win both on the court and in the classroom.

So, how long will it take for another school to come calling?

UWGB fans have watched some of their coaches leave for bigger programs. They have recently watched players who were underrecruited have success with the Phoenix before bigger schools stole them away.

Trevor Anderson left after his freshman season in 2017 to play at Wisconsin. Amari Davis departed for Missouri in 2021 after two seasons. Kamari McGee spent one year in Green Bay but left before last season to play for the Badgers.

It might seem preposterous, and perhaps it is, to think Wicks could be one-and-done. Especially since there are seven games remaining in the regular season and nobody even knows how the Phoenix will do in the Horizon tournament next month.

But is it any crazier than what he already has pulled off?

It doesn’t happen often, but it’s not unprecedented for a coach to stay one year before landing another job.

Buzz Williams spent one season at New Orleans in 2006-07 and then jumped to Marquette as an assistant for one year before taking over as head coach of the Golden Eagles.

Thad Matta was promoted from assistant to head coach at Butler in 2000-01 and led the Bulldogs to a 24-8 record. He was hired by Xavier that offseason.

Wicks and his family have adjusted well to Green Bay after he spent the last three seasons as an assistant at Wyoming.

He and his wife, Courteney, often did the same thing with their two young children, Grace and Skywalker, every weekend while in Laramie, Wyoming.

God bless those 31,659 people who live there, he will tell you, but there wasn’t much to do but take the kids to the Ninja Warrior Gym.

Green Bay isn’t exactly the Big Apple, but Wicks and crew have found plenty of entertainment.

They take Grace and Skywalker to Get Air Trampoline Park. The Green Bay Botanical Garden. The Children’s Museum.

He and Courteney also find a different date spot almost every week.

Wicks loves the house they found. It’s out in the country a little bit and reminds the native of Gillette, Wyoming, of home.

Courteney is a teacher at Parkview Middle School in Ashwaubenon.

“We’ve lived in small towns with hard jobs in cold weather areas,” Wicks said. “We are in a great job in a big town with cold weather. So, we get two different out of the three that we have never gotten.

“It’s been awesome. We love it. When you can get into a community, and they accept you and they care about you … It’s hard to beat, man. It really is.”

Wicks knows there are fans who worry about how other UWGB coaches have left for bigger jobs, but all of them stayed for five to 10 seasons.

What about Wicks? He loves it here, but what if this turnaround is so magical that other schools not only take notice but come calling?

He’s not even pondering it, but he was asked the question, so he gave an answer.

“I don’t placate to that stuff,” Wicks said. “I always say that’s for everybody else to talk about. I don’t get into that crap. I don’t ever focus on that stuff. You don’t mess with happy, right? My family is happy. I’m happy. We are winning. Our team is happy.

“Those are the types of things that I call rat poison for a program, is when people start talking about that stuff.”

UWGB is prepared to step up

While it’s possible another school comes after Wicks, UWGB does have advantages.

Wicks signed a five-year contract in March with a salary of $235,000 per season, made up of a $200,000 base salary in addition to $35,000 paid through the UW-Green Bay Foundation.

If Wicks leaves any time prior to the 2026 national championship game, the buyout will be equivalent to three times the total base salary due for the prior contract year.

The requirement goes down to two times the base salary if notice is given prior to the 2027 title game and the equivalent to the total base salary if provided before the 2028 game.

A Power Five school wouldn’t blink at those numbers. But others might find it less appealing to help pay as much as a $705,000 buyout along with a coaching salary.

Either way, Moon wants to go on offense when it comes to keeping Wicks and his staff.

It’s one thing to lose a coach to a big-time program, like the Phoenix women’s basketball team did when Kevin Borseth left for five seasons to take over at Michigan before returning.

But UWGB must find a way to pay its men’s coach enough that making a move to a conference like the Missouri Valley isn’t a slam dunk.

There is no question UWGB needs more resources. There is a reason Moon believes the time is now to make it happen, to hope more donors and businesses step up to invest in the program to help achieve sustained success instead of the roller coaster it has been on.

Some of the benefits to the early fundraising dollars from last year already have been seen this season.

Wicks not only put together a strong staff with Pat Monaghan, Zach Malvik, Nic Reynolds and director of basketball operations Adam Owens, but he also was able to bring in former UWGB great Rahmon Fletcher as director of player development.

“To be able to fund a new position, now GB has an extra position that we didn’t have before,” Moon said. “A full-time position. How did we do that? We fundraised and we got the money for it.

“That’s the stuff that makes a difference. Right now, Fletch is in there working with some guys. It’s not just Sunny, it’s the whole package.”

Wicks and Moon meet every two weeks and are in constant communication.

Moon was asked whether Wicks’ contract could be extended this offseason or if a raise will be discussed. Wicks also would want to reward his assistants.

“It’s a fluid process,” Moon said. “The contracts aren’t just sitting in a binder somewhere. If that folder isn’t something you look at all the time, then you are not doing your job.

“That’s absolutely something that we have to be competitive. We have to be a destination. I think we are, but we have to increase that funnel now.”

Indeed, if Wicks ever does depart for another job because of a successful run, one big benefit he will leave behind is that he will have made UWGB a much more attractive spot.

There are some coaching candidates who wouldn’t have even considered taking UWGB’s call last season because of how far the program had fallen and that it was one of the two or three worst teams in the nation.

How things have changed in 11 months since Wicks strolled into town.

“That speaks to what Sunny has done,” Moon said. “You have, literally, the worst team in the country statistically. To be able to come in and do that, it makes the story even more amazing.

“This program was at its arguably lowest point in history. That’s what makes this story so amazing. The job he has done and his staff.”

Source: UWGB men’s basketball makes home-run hire with coach Sundance Wicks

You may also like...