Feb. 10—LARAMIE — It's been more than 11 months since Sundance Wicks gave a heartfelt presentation at the podium of last year's Mountain West tournament in Las Vegas.
Wicks, a former assistant coach for the University of Wyoming men's basketball team, filled in for head coach Jeff Linder in the postgame news conference while Linder spent time with his ailing father.
The emotions were raw for Wicks following the Cowboys' 87-76 loss to New Mexico in the first round of last year's conference tournament. As an impartial party, but also an avid sports fan, Wicks nearly brought everyone in the audience — including me — to tears.
"We decide what we write as humans," Wicks said. "We don't get to let anybody else tell the story. ... You know, you can give everything you've got every single day your entire career and still not have the fairytale ending. Most people don't get the fairytale ending. I love Disney movies, but Disney movies are also full of crap sometimes, all right?
"We just don't all get to marry Prince Eric. We don't get that fairytale ending all the time. What we get is, we get to see the real side of human beings in this profession. We get the real side of men — the real side of young men — growing up. That's what's important.
"If we ever lose sight of that because we start thinking about the ledgers of wins and losses, then we have failed as a society, and we failed as fans, and we have failed as a university, and we have failed as coaches. That's where this game needs to go, in a certain direction where it's not transactional. It's transformational. It needs to stay transformational. To me, that's the most important part of this process."
While fans didn't know it at the time, Wicks' speech at the podium also served as his farewell to UW. Six days later, Wicks was hired as head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, his second head coaching gig and his first at the Division I level.
Wicks inherited a team coming off a three-win season. The Phoenix finished last year No. 361 in the KenPom rankings out of 363 DI teams.
"I think this is the greatest job in the country," Wicks said in his introductory news conference last March. "I'm just going to be 100% honest with you: There was no better job in the country than Green Bay right now, and I can tell you why. Where can we go? Up. That's where we can go."
Up is exactly where Wicks has taken the Phoenix during his first season at the helm. Green Bay — picked to finish last out of 11 teams in the Horizon League preseason poll — sits atop the conference standings at 16-9 overall and 11-3 in league play going into this weekend.
Green Bay is ranked No. 189 in the KenPom rankings, 172 spots ahead of where it finished last season. The Phoenix's 16 wins this season matches the program's total over the past three seasons combined.
"One of our guiding principles is belief," Wicks told WLUK-TV FOX 11 on Dec. 5. "I'm a big Ted Lasso guy over here, and everybody knows it. You have to believe. ... I always tell them, 'Culture doesn't take four years. Culture takes belief. How fast can you believe in what you're doing?"
Wicks brought a familiar face with him to Green Bay in point guard Noah Reynolds. The former UW standout is third in the Horizon League in scoring at 19.8 points per game and has eclipsed 30 points six times this season.
Born in Gillette, Wicks won two Class 4A state titles at Campbell County and won the Milward Simpson athlete of the year award in 1999. He left a head coaching job at Missouri Western to join Linder's staff at UW in 2020.
Four years later, Wicks has quickly cemented himself as a rising star in the college basketball coaching ranks.
"The thing I give Sunny credit for is not being scared to take a really hard job," Linder said last week. "A lot of times, coaches want to be picky about the jobs that they get, when, in reality, when you're getting your first (DI) coaching job, it's not going to be a good one.
"But, they had some things in place, and, obviously, that league is a very winnable league. For him to go in there and kind of change some of the things around and put a new roster together, I'm not surprised by it."
Wicks has embodied representing his home state with pride since taking over at Green Bay. Against the odds, Wicks' team sits in the driver's seat of the Horizon League with six regular-season games left to play.
Safe to say, he took some of the lessons learned in Laramie with him to Wisconsin.
"My college coach said, 'Somewhere in life, you need to meet someone who expects greatness out of you,'" Wicks said at last year's MW tournament. "Too many times, I think we shy away from somebody who actually looks at you and says, 'I believe in you, and I expect great things out of you.'
"We shy away from that work, and we shy away from that responsibility, because we don't want to be that person. Maybe we don't believe that we can be that person. ... What makes coach Linder so phenomenal is that he is going to look deep inside of you, and he is going to say, 'I expect you to be great. I want you to do great things. I want you to meet this standard. I want you to meet these expectations.'
"That's what makes a great coach is drawing something out of somebody that they never even thought they had in themselves."
Alex Taylor is the assistant editor for WyoSports and covers University of Wyoming athletics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on X at @alex_m_taylor22.