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Wicks ready to work as UW's men's basketball coach

May 21—LARAMIE — A familiar name appeared on Sundance Wicks' cell phone shortly after he was announced as the University of Wyoming's men's basketball coach earlier this month.

The Gillette product answered the call from former UW coach Larry Shyatt, who was the first college coach to offer Wicks a basketball scholarship when he was a junior at Campbell County High in 1998.

"He called and he said, 'How freaking cool is this?'" Wicks said during Tuesday's news conference. "He still remembers when he offered me, and I still remember when he offered me, but he was like, 'This is such a cool, poetic story for you to be able to go back and have this moment.'

"It was kind of full-circle for me to get that call from Larry Shyatt 25 years ago and to get that call from Larry Shyatt 25 years later."

Wicks was introduced as the 23rd men's basketball coach in UW history May 12. He replaced Jeff Linder, who left Laramie to become an associate head coach at Texas Tech after four seasons as the head coach in Laramie.

The hiring of Wicks marks his second stint in Laramie after he served as an assistant on Linder's staff from 2020-23.

Wicks spent last season as head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, leading the Phoenix to a 15-win turnaround after finishing the previous season 3-29.

Wicks won Horizon League coach of the year and was also named the Joe B. Hall national coach of the year, which honors the best first-year head coach in Division I basketball.

"Gratitude is something that's been on my mind lately," Wicks said. "I'm extremely thankful for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and director of athletics Josh Moon. He gave me my shot, man.

"You pray for those opportunities, but God never rewards you in the way you think he's going to reward you. He says, 'You want an opportunity? Let's go to (the 362nd team in the country) out of 362 and see what you can do, big boy."

Wicks had previous head coaching experience at NCAA Division II Missouri Western from 2018-20. He left the head job to join Linder's staff when he was hired at UW in 2020.

"You have to be kind of crazy in this profession, and you also have to take some risks and take some leaps," Wicks said. "Everybody talks about betting on themselves, and I get that mantra or that statement, but, at the end of the day, it's not so much betting on yourself as it is believing in your processes and getting the right people around you to do great things.

"I think that's what we were able to do at Green Bay, which honestly probably afforded us this situation here."

Wicks was on UW's staff during the Cowboys' run to the NCAA Tournament in 2022. His biggest focus since taking over at UW has been putting a roster together this late in the recruiting cycle.

"I want the type of guys who are available in the portal right now," Wicks said with a laugh. "... We had to re-recruit some guys and definitely re-recruit the roster, because I think coach Linder put a really good roster together with some of our international guys who are currently on it and some of the returning guys.

"I think the guts are there. I always look at the core guys there. Do they have feel? Because we're going to recruit very similar with the style of play and the style of guys we have. You want feel, you want intelligence, you want toughness and you want skill."

Wicks has long been known for his passion for bringing energy to the teams he's coached. His 'bring your own juice' mantra won't go away anytime soon.

"There's three things you need to do in this life: You need to discover your unique gift or talent, you have to develop it and then you have to deliver it and you have to give it away," Wicks said. "What good is Christmas without any presents? Everybody has a gift now, but the point of Christmas is to give. My job is to give, and give and give. This is what I have, and this is my gift.

"... Every player is charged with in our program to bring their own juice to practice every single day. Bring your own juice to the community. Bring your own juice to the Cowboy basketball program to serve in that manner that is completely and uniquely and authentically you."

The Cowboys are coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons after their March Madness appearance. The lack of success on the court led to subpar attendance at the Arena-Auditorium last season.

UW was eighth in the Mountain West in average attendance last year at 3,987, but Wicks already has a plan in place to get fans back in the seats.

"You have to go to the people, man," Wicks said. "They come down here every single weekend and tailgate three days — Thursday, Friday and Saturday — for football. I get it, they ride for the brand. So, we have to go do the same thing and show the love out there.

"... We'll just start building the army of energy-givers. That's what we call it. We have to build the army of energy-givers, but you have to give to get. You have to serve first, knowing that we're not going to expect anything in return. We're going to show it and let the work speak for itself.

"Ultimately, what always happens in this is the fruits of who we are shine through of how we go about things, and people feel a little bit more compelled to maybe support our program in different ways when we're out there boots-on-the-ground with them in the trenches."

Wicks' community outreach initiative starts with the players. That includes student-athletes roaming UW's campus in an effort to boost student turnout in the Double-A this winter.

"I'll probably go to frat parties," Wicks said with a laugh. "I'll probably go to sororities. I'll probably walk over to the dorms, buy some pizza, eat some pizza and sit down. I'd like to think there is some Cowboy crazies out there that we're going to get.

"I attract crazy people, outside of my wife. That's the one caveat. I don't know how I got that one, but I attract a lot of crazy people, and I want that. We want all the smoke with all that stuff. We want all the fans to just know that there should be a whole dang juice box section down there.

"... There's all sorts of weirdos out there that I want to join my weirdo army, OK? We're going to all do this together. That's the way I look at it. Just like the state of Wyoming, you have to go out and shake some hands, man."

Name, imagine and likeness is not a problem unique to UW. But student-athletes being paid to play at the college level is a shift the Cowboys will need to continue to adjust to moving forward in the Mountain West.

"Let's not get it twisted. Caring about players does not mean paying players," Wicks said. "Just because you pay a player does not mean you care about him. Just because you pay players lots of money does not mean there will be a caring atmosphere, a connecting atmosphere or a competitive atmosphere.

"Quite honestly, there is probably a lot of programs that are paying players that don't care, have zero connection and lack competitiveness. The one thing that we'll do better than anyone else in this country — and I can put my stamp on that — is we will care, we will connect and we will compete at a high freaking level, regardless of the salary cap. So that you can put a freaking Wyoming damn stamp on.

"... You better come here, you better care about your teammates, you better connect at a high level with this community and this campus, and you better be damn sure you're competitive, because the Wyoming way is competitive."

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Alex Taylor is the assistant editor for WyoSports and covers University of Wyoming athletics. He can be reached at ataylor@wyosports.net. Follow him on X at @alex_m_taylor22.