GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC 26) — Sundance "Sunny" Wicks is bringing his high-energy, high-optimism style to UW-Green Bay.
Phoenix fans formally welcomed their new men's basketball coach Wednesday morning, as a small group gathered for an introductory news conference on campus at the Kress Center.
Wicks, who was previously an assistant coach in his home state at the University of Wyoming, made it clear that Green Bay is where he wants to be.
In fact, he said he believes the UWGB gig is currently the "greatest job" in all of college basketball.
"I'm just going to be 100 percent honest with you," he said. "There was no better job in the country than Green Bay right now and I'm going to tell you why. Where can we go? Up. That's where we can go.
"This is a challenge," Wicks said. "It's a unique obstacle. But why not run into the fire? Why not come to this job? Why not come to Green Bay? This is my calling."
The Phoenix won went just 3-29 last season and 5-25 the year before, placing them among the worst programs in Division I men's basketball over that span and leading to the mid-season firing of Will Ryan in January.
But, university leaders are fully focused on bringing Green Bay basketball back.
Both Wicks and Josh Moon, UWGB's Director of Athletics, emphasized the importance of Green Bay's rich history, which features five NCAA Tournament appearances with the most recent coming in 2016 under Linc Darner.
"The belief is there that we belong with the best mid-major programs in the country in basketball," Moon said. "Sunny is a winner and will bring energy and connectivity to this region and put Phoenix basketball in a position of strength in the D1 landscape."
"To me, it's pretty simple," Wicks said. "Look at the success of the past and press repeat."
A NATIONWIDE EFFECT
Aside from a few blips in the early-to-mid 2010s, Green Bay men's basketball has not been consistently relevant nationally since the days of Dick Bennett and Mike Heideman in the 1990s.
Wicks believes he can change that.
After back-to-back historically bad years, he believes a turnaround could capture the attention of college basketball fans all across the U.S.
"There's a story that can be written right now in the next year to two about where this program is and where it's going to go that can resonate with the entire country," he said.
A potential turnaround largely depends on what players the new coach is able to bring in, especially considering several have already been lost to the transfer portal. Wicks said he hopes to bring in players who are "ready for the mission."
"You need dudes who are built for this," he said. "Every day guys. Every day dudes."
"THE PORTAL GIVETH... AND THE PORTAL TAKETH AWAY"
Wicks joked that that particular line is from "NCAA Basketball, Chapter 1: Book 3."
The advent of the transfer portal, a relatively new addition to college basketball which allows players to change schools and play immediately the following year, has drastically changed the landscape of college sports.
Amid the recent coaching changes, it has hit Green Bay especially hard. Since Wicks was hired, several key players have already entered the portal - including leading scorer Cade Meyer and prized local recruit Donavan Short.
This is not uncommon in college basketball. Wicks admitted the changing landscape can be difficult to navigate.
"It's a new time, man," he said. "It's a weird, weird time with the portal. I do know this: It (comes in) cycles."
Wicks said he doesn't want Green Bay to get "lost" in the portal.
"What you'll see is a lot of programs that will just go collect talent and collect good players, and they'll have terrible chemistry," he said. "They won't have anybody on that roster that understands anything about what we're trying to do. They're just hired guns, mercenaries, whatever you want to call them."
Wicks said he believes it's important to recruit the person first, rather than getting distracted by a player's stats or highlights.
He also believes that - while the transfer portal has presented new challenges for coaches - it's done the same for players.
"I feel for this generation of kids right now because I think sometimes too much opportunity or too many options at a young age... that's where you're seeing some of these guys come in the portal and never come back," he said. "So it's kind of sad from that sense."
Wicks' speech to Phoenix fans featured several catchy buzzwords like "contagious energy," "sweat equity" and "humility-driven leadership." He even at one point compared himself to fictional soccer coach Ted Lasso, the always-optimistic and beloved title character portrayed by Jason Sudeikis on the Apple TV show of the same name.
But one that stood out the most was his belief in a "community-driven culture." The Wyoming native said he is eager to mold his program into what he believes this city stands for.
"There are going to be tons - TONS - of hints of Green Bay in the way we play," he said. "Gritty. There is going to be some grit involved - the Green Bay grit - in the way we play.
"Graceful," Wicks added. "There's going to be some grace involved too because I believe Green Bay is a weird conundrum of grit and grace.
"For me, just being in the community (the past few weeks) - that's who we are," Wicks said. "That's how we become Green Bay again. That's how we resurrect it from the past is we get back to the Green Bay way."