Homelessness, MMA and ‘Moneyball’: Sundance Wicks resurrected himself and the Green Bay basketball program | 247 Sports

Meet the coach behind Green Bay’s revival from the worst program in college basketball to a Horizon League contender.

There’s a 27,000-square-foot warehouse located in Gilbert, Arizona. It’s on the corner of Guadalupe and Gilbert, and it has security lights that blink constantly. All. Night. Long.

Tucked in the corner of Power MMA and Fitness was a beanbag and planted on that beanbag-turned-bed is Sundance Wicks. Your early 30s is way too young for a midlife crisis, but Wicks found it and all its ugliness. The flickering lights kept Wicks company at night when the nagging thoughts were hard to push away. Wicks was drifting here, there and nowhere. His mind seemingly sinking into the Arizona quicksand. Being happy or sad didn’t matter. Survival was everything.

“I sheltered all that stuff from my family as much as I could,” Wicks recalls. “I didn’t tell my family I was living in a car and homeless. I didn’t want my mom and dad to know that. It’s embarrassing.”

How did it all go wrong so quickly?

A few years prior, Wicks, then 26, was a bright, brash assistant who was ready to conquer the world. He followed Ricardo Patton to Northern Illinois to turn around a program that had just two winning seasons in the previous decade.  It was going to be hard, but Wicks threw himself into the fight. He immersed himself into Northern Illinois’ culture, even grabbing a mic and announcing at home track and field events or being an emcee for The Victors, an NIU student award show. Northern Illinois won just 26 games during their first three years, but Year 4 was supposed to be different. NIU was picked to finish second. The Huskies finished tied for second … to last.

Patton was axed which meant Wicks was out of a job, too.

“I went down with the ship,” Wicks says soberly.

With no coaches beating down his door offering an assistant coach gig, Wicks was desperately looking for a job. Wicks wanted to be a Division I head coach, but he wasn’t qualified for it, yet. To get there, he needed to take a gamble. He needed something, anything to kickstart a pilgrimage that has culminated in a remarkable 11-month, about-face for Green Bay basketball.

Power MMA and Fitness was started by UFC stars Aaron Simpson, Ryan Bader and CB Dollaway to train wrestlers, fighters and everybody in between. There was also room for a basketball hoop with the idea that some of Arizona’s best hoopers could use a place to train. They just needed a trainer. Wicks heard the pitch and was sold. He packed his bags and moved to Arizona.

When he got there, he realized he was in for something way more challenging than he initially envisioned. Training basketball was second nature for Wicks. He’s obsessed with the high that comes from seeing a player transform into something (and someone) better.

But the conditions were rough. Power MMA and Fitness wasn’t for everyone.

A structural beam was positioned right on the 3-point line. The court was built for racketball, not basketball. There was an octagon and the Muay Thai pit in the back. Oh, and the person training you was homeless, slept in the gym and hoped no one found out.

“It was really gritty,” Wicks said.

Somehow, it worked.

Hundreds of Arizona’s best hoopers (Marvin Bagley, Markus Howard, Josh Childress, Casey Benson and Mitch Lightfoot, just to name a few) came through that door.

“It was exhilarating,” Wicks said. “There’s dudes pounding each other’s faces in and you gotta go get your work in on a racketball court. You learn about belief.”

Wicks found belief in himself again. It took Wicks the next eight months to save up money for an apartment, but that didn’t matter. It was a worthy trade-off for finding his calling. It was coaching. It was always coaching.

“When you get into the deep, dark pits of despair, there’s something that teaches you about yourself that success or good fortune can’t teach you,” Wicks said. “I’m blessed for that. The burden you bear becomes the blessing that shapes your life and the ones around you. We’re built on the building blocks of chaos.”


Chaos is a kind way to describe what hit Green Bay’s basketball program. A once-proud program had hit rock bottom in 2022. Bo Ryan’s son, Will, was fired midway through Year 3 . Green Bay finished 3-29 last season. It won just 16 games combined in the last three years. It was the worst three-year stretch in Green Bay basketball history.

Green Bay finished No. 359 on KenPom out of 363 Division I programs. It was arguably the worst job opening in last year’s coaching carousel.

In 2015, Wicks left Arizona to be an assistant at San Francisco for one season. Then went to his alma mater, Northern State (2016-18) and Wyoming (2020-23) with a two-year stint as Missouri Western University’s head coach mixed into the batter.

He was itching for a Division I coaching gig.

Green Bay needed someone who would look at the program as a destination, not a sinkhole. It needed someone like Wicks.

“People talk about 30-, 60- and 90-day plans. There is no 30-60-90. There’s only every hour of the day until you get it figured out,” Wicks said. “That’s why they call it Year Zero. Everything is important, nothing is important. Where are the bodies buried? Can we even get out of this hole?”

Heading into the 2022-23 season, Green Bay was picked last in the Horizon. Right now, it sits tied with Oakland in the loss column atop the league standings. Green Bay is 17-10 and 12-4 in conference play. It’s a remarkably stunning turnaround. Green Bay has jumped from No. 351 on KenPom up to No. 187. It’s one of the largest vaults in the country and Wicks has a case for National Coach of the Year.

How did this happen?

When Wicks took the job in mid-March, the house-hunting search took a backseat. The portal was humming, and Wicks had no time. Putting together a staff was paramount. Ace Winona State assistant Zach Malvik — who was well-versed in the Division II ranks — was a no-brainer. Veteran assistant Pat Monaghan knew the Horizon League dating back to his years at Loyola-Chicago and Milwaukee. Wicks believes assistant Nic Reynolds is going to be a rising star in the coaching industry, so he scooped him up in a hurry.

Wicks, Malvik, Monaghan and Reynolds paid (!) to live in Green Bay’s dorms right after moving to the cheesehead-littered city.

“Our families weren’t here yet, so we’re living in the dorms and what’s beautiful, we could dive into who we are and what we’re going to be and how we’ll navigate these choppy waters,” Wicks said. “Smooth seas don’t make skillful sailors, right? It’s choppy.”

Wicks describes his roster-building process a bit like Moneyball. Billy Beane would’ve been proud of the way Green Bay’s staff was thinking.

“It looks kinda crazy at first because people are like, what are you doing,” Wicks says. “You got some guys from Division II. You got some guys that were walk-ons. You got some guys with no scholarship offers. All these guys were classically undervalued. We can go get all these guys that nobody would pay for but we would because we value what they are as humans. The chemistry ends up working because we got the right mix of people, not the right positions, not the right metrics, not the right size, not the right length. I always felt good about the guys who were committing to us.

Green Bay’s staff had a Jonah Hill-like celebration when Rich Byhre hopped on board. The Division II All-American was the sweet-shooting big man Green Bay so desperately needed. Fellow Division II transfer forward Will Eames was another big get. Sometimes, Eames plays 31 minutes against Oakland. A week later, he gets six minutes against IUPUI. It truly doesn’t matter. He’s dubbed “Skill Will.”

“He’s our version of Larry Bird,” Wicks said. “He’s a phenomenal passer. Inside, outside, does a little bit of everything. Every night is different minutes and he has the mental capacity to handle that. You can’t put a freshman in that situation because it’s too hard mentally.”

Valparaiso transfer guard Preston Ruedinger didn’t even visit before committing. He was ready to come home. It didn’t take much for Southern Illinois transfer Foster Wonders to see the vision.

The pieces were starting to come into form, but Green Bay needed a star and Wicks knew right where to look.


Ahead of the 2021-22 season, Wyoming had one more open scholarship. Wyoming head coach Jeff Linder needed a guard. He didn’t need a starter, but a backup depth piece who could go get a bucket and defend. The board was filled with different names, and the debate had started to simmer.

Wicks had a name in mind: Noah Reynolds, who owned zero Division I offers.

“‘I will put my job on the line if this kid doesn’t work out,” the then-Wyoming assistant remembers writing to Linder in an email. “You can fire me if this doesn’t work.”

Wyoming took Reynolds, and he immediately helped the Cowboys make the NCAA tournament as a freshman.

Two years later, Wicks wanted Reynolds again. Noah’s older brother, Nic, was on Green Bay’s staff, but that didn’t matter at first. Wicks noted that Noah’s mom wanted him to go to Wisconsin. When he hit the portal and the Badgers came calling, Reynolds hopped on board.

Wisconsin took Reynolds’ commitment, but he didn’t hear from UW for two weeks. It didn’t feel right. So he decommitted and flipped to join his brother at Green Bay.

Reynolds likely would’ve had a role at Wisconsin, but he’s a stud at Green Bay. The junior guard is pouring in 19.7 points, ripping down 3.7 rebounds and dishing out 4.4 assists per game. He’s shooting nearly 40% from 3-point range during conference play, and he’s on the inside track to win Player of the Year in the Horizon.

He’s won over just about everybody inside and outside the program with more than just basketball.

Reynolds was puking at halftime of Green Bay’s early-February win over Robert Morris. He still managed to score 32 points, but he wasn’t able to go against Youngstown State because of the bug. Without Reynolds, Green Bay’s supporting cast stepped up, and Wonders drilled the game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds to hand Green Bay one of its biggest wins of the season. Wicks got to celebrate the win with a rare date with his wife, Courteney. But the occasion was interrupted by a text from Reynolds who asked to come off the bench in the next game because he missed a practice. Players don’t start if they miss a practice. It violates a team rule, and Reynolds didn’t want to rock the boat.

“I FaceTimed him just to see if it’s a joke or if it’s a real thing,” Wicks said. “I can’t interpret texts. I failed mind-reading in college. You tell me which Player of the Year-caliber guy gets sick and the first thing he thinks about are his teammates and the culture code we have and wants to come off the bench. There’s not a player in the country in that situation in this country saying those things to their coach. That’s how you know you got a real f****** guy.”


The Moneyball approach to roster-building is one thing, but the Xs and Os are a bit unique, too. Green Bay’s process on the floor is fascinating. The Phoenix try their best to limit shots at the rim. Less than a third of the shots against Green Bay’s defense come at the rim. Green Bay owns the 19th-best 3-point defense in the country as well. Opponents are shooting just 30.1% from downtown. It isn’t just fortunate shooting variance.

One of Wicks’ favorite stats is that opponents are also only shooting 31% on unguarded catch-and-shoot 3-pointers against Green Bay. That ranks 17th-best nationally.

It’s all a strategy to leave non-shooters open and bait them into taking shots they aren’t comfortable with.

Wicks studied Nick Saban and Bill Belichick and honed in on focusing on the opponent’s weaknesses.

“Start of this year, we’re picked last in the league, we’re inheriting the ‘worst’ program in college basketball,” Wicks says. “If we line up against anybody that we’re supposed to play this year, we’re not going to be the favorite. By the metrics, the numbers and outside prognostications. We can’t just line up and say we’re better than you. Kansas can do that. Oklahoma can do that. We can’t line up and say, ‘We’re better than you, do what you do.’

“So, what are your weaknesses? Let’s exploit them. Laser focused on that weakness and we’re willing to lose if you do this because we don’t think you can do this for 40 minutes. If a guy is shooting 50% from 3, but he’s made eight of them all year. You’re going to have to make eight tonight. Or a guy shoots 29% from 3, you’re going to have to go beat us tonight by making 3s all night long.”

The strategy isn’t always perfect (Wicks groans at the few times Green Bay forgets to guard the shooter), but it’s working.

Stud Youngstown State forward DJ Burns took just seven 3-pointers during his first four years of college basketball. He’s not a bad shooter, but he’s at his best ripping out souls in the paint. Green Bay chose not to guard him. He took 12 3-pointers against Green Bay. That was double the number of 3s he had taken in a single game throughout his tenure.

Peek at the box score, and you’d assume Wicks was mad to see Burns hit 5 of 12 3-pointers. That’s 15 key points on 12 shots. From a math perspective, giving up 1.25 points per possession on those Burns’ treys is an L for Green Bay. But the unnoticed ripple effects of Burns shooting a dozen treys helped Green Bay escape with another victory.

“He was not in the post pinning fouls on us and your other guys like Ziggy Reid and Brandon Rush aren’t shooting, so you’re shooting all the shots for everyone else,” Wicks said. “They’re not going to get them. We’re trying to distort your rhythm or your flow or your identity. If you don’t have an identity, we’re going to make you have an identity crisis.”


Green Bay is a big city that acts like a small one when the Packers play. The town completely shuts down, almost like a Friday night high school football game on steroids.

Wicks wants to have something like that for Green Bay basketball. The scars from three years of losses and burnt bridges won’t get fixed in a day. It’s an ongoing process that doesn’t just end. But the program’s revival has rejuvenated a city that craves football but also loves its basketball.

“You can’t recruit a bunch of people to like your program,” Wicks says. “We don’t like these guys, so we’re going to go get different fans? No. You show love and you give love all the time to the people who are supporting you and especially the ones who are with you in the sacrifices because they suffered with you. I just really connect more with programs that have a passionate alumni base that wants to see their team have success and don’t complain about it. That’s what I loved about Green Bay. They wanted better. They wanted more. They didn’t just complain. They were willing to make changes. we got you. We’re going to support you. We’re going to be in these trenches with you. That’s where you build an army and you create momentum. They’re not watching you and saying ‘good luck, we’ll watch it before we buy it.’ No, there have been a handful of people in this program’s back pocket from the dark days until now. They are loving it just as much as we are loving it.”

If Green Bay wins its final four games, it will earn at least a share of the Horizon League championship. A trip to the NCAA Tournament could be right around the corner if Green Bay stays hot in the end-of-season conference tournament. Get ready for more Moneyball in the Big Dance if that happens.

It almost doesn’t feel real.

The memories of that beanbag or those flickering lights won’t ever go away.

“You can’t connect the dots until looking back,” Wicks said. “It’s another life lesson about the coolest moments in your life coming out of the most desperate, obscure moments.”

Source: Homelessness, MMA and ‘Moneyball’: Sundance Wicks resurrected himself and the Green Bay basketball program

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