A new coach and almost-new squad will look to bring Green Bay back to the glory days.
In today’s social media world, it seems that the present has never been so important, and the past has never been so distant. What is going on right now is harder to overcome and weighs more on people’s perception than ever before. This is especially true for the Green Bay Phoenix men’s basketball team. The Phoenix program has played in multiple NCAA and NIT Tournaments, won games in those tournaments, has had multiple players selected in the NBA draft, produced many other professional players, and has built some of the best basketball facilities in the league. Yet for all the Green Bay program has accomplished the perception of the present has had a major impact on how the Phoenix are viewed in the college basketball landscape.
The leadership in Green Bay decided enough was enough and set out to hire a new coach that could honor the past and ignite the future. Enter Coach Sundance Wicks. On March 14th, he was hired to lead the Phoenix program from where it is back to where it will be. Wicks brings a passion and purpose to changing the perception and results for the program.
Looking ahead to the first season under Wicks, the 2023-24 roster is almost entirely new. The only holdovers from last year are the versatile Clarence Cummings III, the reliable Ryan Wade, and the athletic Amari Jedkins. Wicks had a virtual clean slate to work with and he brought in a mix of veterans and freshmen to complete the roster.
The players that stayed and the players that joined the team have the feel, intelligence, toughness and skill that coach Wicks is looking for. However, that is just one part of the evaluation process.
“We really tried to find ‘want to’ in players,” Wicks said. “Guys who WANTED TO be here…almost more important than what they were as a player was who they were as a person. The make-up of the man matters to us.”
The most proven addition to the roster is Noah Reynolds, who comes to the Phoenix after spending two seasons with Wicks as part of the Cowboys roster. Prior to being shut down due to injuries, Reynolds averaged 14.1 ppg on 47.3% shooting from the field. After entering the transfer portal this spring, he was previously committed to the University of Wisconsin prior to changing direction and joining Green Bay. Reynolds is a very strong and crafty left-handed guard that will get to the rim a lot.
To complement Reynolds role as a lead guard, the Phoenix added big man Rich Byhre. En route to being a D2 All-American at Rockhurst, Byhre was a few made free throws away from being a 90/50/40 player. He isn’t a big-time vertical athlete; rather he is fundamentally solid with a big strong body in the post that can also really shoot from deep. In today’s ball screen dominated game, Byhre is a very dangerous pick and pop shooter from deep.
Elijah Jones comes to Green Bay by way of NJCAA national champion John A. Logan College. Standing at 6-7, Jones is a do-everything player. The Horizon League was impacted in 2022-23 by a similar former Logan player, Tae Williams of Cleveland State. With his length and athletic ability, Jones should also impact the game both in the box score and out of the box score.
Green Bay needed to add steady perimeter shooting and found their man in Southern Illinois transfer Foster Wonders. Wonders had been recruited by GB under Linc Darner but ultimately picked SIU after Coach Darner was no longer at the helm. With Coach Pat Monaghan coming to Green Bay from Southern Illinois, it made for a more comfortable transition for Wonders, as he returns closer to his hometown of Iron Mountain, Michigan. With limited usage, Wonders did shoot 17-49 for 34.7% from deep in his one season of action for the Salukis. The expectation would be to maintain his shooting efficiency with the additional volume that will come in the Phoenix rotation.
Another Missouri Valley Conference player returns closer to home to join the Green Bay backcourt in Preston Ruedinger of Oshkosh, who played the past two seasons for Valpo. With the Beacons, he was a member of the All MVC freshman team in 2021-22. However, his 2022-23 season was cut short due to injuries. At Valpo, he was really asked to facilitate the offense and as freshman he had a 4:1 assist to turnover ratio. In addition to setting up teammates, with GB there is an opportunity to show off more of the impressive scoring ability he flashed in high school when he averaged 25.8ppg while leading Lourdes Academy to a WIAA state title.
Another new face to Green Bay but a familiar face to Wicks is Missouri Western transfer Will Eames. Earning the MIAA Freshman of the Year in his one season playing for Wicks, Eames is now a sixth-year senior that was a steady performer in D2. As a forward he can stretch the floor and is a plus rebounder. He brings steady leadership and knowledge to this Phoenix roster.
In addition to these transfers, Green Bay will also add six true freshmen. Marcus Hall and Mac Wrecke are top ten Wisconsin high school prospects that were previously committed under coach Will Ryan. David Douglas, Jr. is a do everything combo guard from Illinois. Jacob Antchak is a Canadian big man that has never met a rim he didn’t like dunking on. Matt Blanton and Garret Dutro are smooth shooting guards that are walking on. This group has some guys that could be in the rotation as freshman and be impact players in the future seasons for the Phoenix.
The schedule for Green Bay is not as daunting as in the recent past. While they do play more road games than home games, several of their opponents are in various stages of rebuilding like the Phoenix and there is an opportunity to build momentum in the non-conference schedule. They only have two D1 home games (St. Thomas and Western Illinois) as well as two non-D1 home games (MSOE and St. Francis IL). On the road, they have two Big 12 buy games as they make trips to Iowa State and Oklahoma. They play road games at Valpo, Montana St, UIC and SIUE. They also have a neutral site game in Bozeman, Montana against UC Riverside.
It is impossible to deny that Wicks has brought in a positive energy and outlook for the program that the ever-present world hasn’t seen in Green Bay for some time. Based on that alone outside expectations should be higher for the Phoenix than one year ago. However, he isn’t worried about outside expectations.
“We don’t worry about expectations…WE LIVE BY OUR STANDARDS. For us to become who we want to become we quiet the outside noise of expectations and turn up the volume of our standards. LIVE IT EVERY DAMN DAY,” said Wicks.
The Phoenix has a manageable non-conference schedule to help build momentum and several all-conference level talents on the roster. They can mix this starting point with their team strengths of relentless defense, a connected roster and having strong internal standards. The combination of these factors will give the Phoenix an opportunity to surprise those who believe that GB’s place in this league is perpetually at the bottom.
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Miss anything from Preview Week? Check it all out below:
Preview Week Recap Part 1 | Preview Week Recap Part 2