Sydney Wiese's path to Oregon State stardom shaped by faith, family and basketball

PHOENIX a Stepping inside Sydney Wiese's childhood bedroom also means stepping into "controlled chaos." Posters of icons ranging from former NBA and college stars Steve Nash and Jimmer Fredette to Hollywood heartthrob Robert Pattinson are plastered all...

Sydney Wiese's path to Oregon State stardom shaped by faith, family and basketball

PHOENIX a Stepping inside Sydney Wiese's childhood bedroom also means stepping into "controlled chaos."

Posters of icons ranging from former NBA and college stars Steve Nash and Jimmer Fredette to Hollywood heartthrob Robert Pattinson are plastered all over the blue walls and ceiling. Strategically placed motivational messages are handwritten in various colors. At least 20 basketballs, many of them flat after an unfortunate encounter with a cactus, are stuffed under the bed.

It's a time capsule of sorts, since Wiese has not lived here full-time in nearly four years. But it gives a glimpse inside the Oregon State senior point guard's mind and heart while morphing into one of the nation's premier women's basketball players for a team aiming to make another deep NCAA Tournament run.

"It's crazy how it tells the story of all the phases that I've been through," Wiese said. "And then I never took anything down, because I feel like each of those parts is special and makes up the whole of my life."

Before setting the Pac-12's all-time record for three-pointers and becoming OSU's all-time leader in assists, she was perfecting that lethal lefty stroke and crafty ballhandling in her driveway. Before helping lead OSU to consecutive Pac-12 titles and a Final Four appearance, she was a teenager fed up with seemingly always finishing in second place. Before jubilantly dancing on the Gill Coliseum court and spontaneously breaking into song during postgame press conferences, she was unifying a church congregation that now turns out in droves to watch her play.

Those closest to her say that, with Wiese, what you see is what you get. Faith, family and basketball have shaped her, and peeling back each of those layers helps explain why she is so comfortable being herself.

"I've learned that you don't have to be afraid to grow in front of people," Wiese said. "You want to be as human as you can be, but also show that you're not afraid to take on whatever is going on in life.

"It's a constant balance that I've been trying to find, but life's too short to be anyone other than yourself."

* * *

Photo courtesy of Patti Wiese 

"UCONN" is written in big, block letters to the left of the bedroom door. "I feel like everyone goes through that phase where it's either Tennessee, UConn, Notre Dame. When I was a freshman and sophomore, that's where I wanted to go. And then it didn't happen."

The hoop in the Wiese family driveway is now missing a backboard and most of its net, a product of Sydney's long hours launching shot after shot.

Wiese's dad, Troy, first brought her along to summer camps while he was the girls varsity coach at Horizon High School in Scottsdale. After spending her early years watching movies in a nearby classroom, Wiese eventually made her way onto the court. By the time she had picked up basics like handling the ball and finishing layups with her off hand, she was hooked.

Then she transitioned into a diligent, self-imposed home routine.

She'd dribble two balls on the tile from the entry hallway into the kitchen or while jogging through the neighborhood. She'd wake up early to toss a 10-pound medicine ball against a backyard wall 150 times to strengthen her forearms for long passes, targeting a new spot whenever the material started to crack. She'd play Around the World with her older brother, Christian, making four shots at various spots around the driveway before inventing new ways to extend her range.  

"She didn't care if she was on the rocks," Troy said. "She shot baseline, 18 feet over in the neighbor's driveway."  

"Or in the street," added her mom, Patti.

The family stresses that Troy never pushed or hovered over Sydney.

"He would always ask, 'Can I give you this tip?'" Wiese said.

But some of her family's influences are obvious. The unabashed goofiness comes from Troy, who once cruised around the grocery store aisles in a kid cart during a family shopping trip. The quiet strength comes from her family's women, starting with Patti. The work ethic come from both parents, who hail from Minnesota. The loyalty comes from Christian, who fostered sibling support rather than rivalry.

Also, her dad did suggest that she get her growing bangs out of her eyes with a headband, now her signature game-day accessory.


At Pinnacle High School, Wiese would run drills with coach Charlie Wilde's boys team "because she shot as well as anybody," and he would rebound "only her makes," he said with a grin.

"My life was literally basketball," she said. "I didn't go and hang out with friends a lot, because it didn't really help me. It didn't satisfy me."

The work paid off. Wiese developed into a four-star recruit and Arizona Big Schools Player of the Year, averaging 18.5 points and 5.2 assists per game as a senior. She played with a freewheeling flair modeled after her idols on those bedroom posters.

But at the time, Wiese's high school career was largely defined by the sting of losing three times in the state championship game.

She collapsed and sobbed inconsolably in front of her team's bench after her senior-year defeat. And then the pain lingered, with Patti recalling Sydney coming down the stairs for school with "no emotion" for days.

"It was one of those rock-bottom, hits-your-soul-and-shatters-it moments where I felt so broken," Wiese said. "I didn't understand why ... going into high school, that's all I wanted."

Still, Wiese received enough recruiting mail to fill four storage bins, starting with an offer from Washington State when she was a lanky 5-foot-4 freshman and growing to power conference schools all over the country. As a sophomore, she sent Connecticut a photo of her and coach Geno Auriemma and a note expressing her dream to join the program. But the interest was never reciprocated.

Instead, OSU was her only official visit. She committed to the Beavers on the spot because of coach Scott Rueck's vision, the opportunity to play right away at a Pac-12 school and the community vibe on campus. After she made her pledge, Wiese put a black "S" under the "O" in "UCONN" to symbolize her new college path.

Before departing for Corvallis, she also left herself a more discreet message.

* * *

Photo courtesy of Patti Wiese 

Written in red above the left corner of the closet is the acronym "RTFS" a Refuse to Fall Short. "It was like, 'Alright, enough is enough. We're going to get there somehow. You just have to trust God's timing.'"

Faith has always been an anchor in Wiese's life, from her preschool days at Resurrection Lutheran Church to sharing a paper with the entire congregation at the end of her junior high program to being a counselor at youth camp as a high schooler.

But a spiritual experience just before her freshman season in Corvallis strengthened her belief and helped her get past the pain of losing those three state titles in high school.

She went for an "emotional" run on the OSU track and, naturally, it was raining. When she finished, she fell to her knees, looked skyward and said, "I'm giving everything up to you. I don't want this in my control."

"It stopped raining and the sun started shining," recalled Wiese. "Ever since that moment, this indescribable peace washed over me. My mantra became 'God is good,' and that carried on, and it's going to carry on throughout everything.

"We would always have sermons about it, but it never really sunk in until that moment ... I have to just enjoy the ride and watch Him go to work."

Yet after that run in the rain, Wiese still needed to learn how to win.

Rueck bluntly corrected his 6-foot-1 point guard's on-court tactics, from her lack of understanding on the defensive end to any poor decision she made as the Beavers' primary ballhandler. Frustrations reached a breaking point when Wiese, then a sophomore who took the critiques as personal attacks, unleashed her feelings in a handwritten letter to Rueck. She had been too nervous to approach her coach in person.

That sparked a crucial face-to-face discussion and "next-level understanding" between coach and player. Watching games from the sideline while recovering from a broken hand last season brought Wiese even more clarity on the fundamentals Rueck preached, like reading passing lanes, taking proper defensive angles and playing poised.

"Every relationship that matters has the 'stuff,' and ours has had that," Rueck said. "And that's what's made it as magical as it's been."

Wiese has since adopted that same "tough love" leadership approach at times, holding others accountable even when it's uncomfortable. The roster turnover from year to year has also taught her how to balance the stresses of the season with being present with teammates who become sisters. Though any loss still hurts, she moves on with a more level head.

Now Wiese is finishing off a career full of personal accolades while her team has reached unprecedented heights. She's about to become a four-time all-Pac-12 selection and is a conference player of the year contender, ranking sixth nationally in three-point field-goal percentage (46.6) while averaging 15 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. She's seventh on OSU's all-time scoring list with 1,696 career points. No player in Pac-12 history has ever made more three-pointers (352), and no player in a Beavers uniform has ever dished out more assists (592).

When she cut down a net for the first time after OSU topped California in 2015 to win the Pac-12 title, Wiese could finally call herself a champion. She did it three more times as a junior, when the Beavers repeated as Pac-12 regular-season champions, won the conference tournament and reached the Final Four. A sweep of the Bay Area schools this weekend would clinch another outright league title.

"It's been extremely rewarding to see her achieve at the very highest level and for her to see herself differently, because she does," Rueck said. "It's been one of the joys of my career, to be honest." a"

* * *

Photo courtesy of Patti Wiese 

On the frame above Wiese's bedroom door is a simple message: ENJOY THE JOURNEY! "Every time I left my room, it was a reminder to enjoy whatever that day brought and to take it in and make the most of it."  

At OSU, Wiese's joyful on-court persona has made her a favorite with a crowd consistently peppered with young girls rocking headbands or holding "Sydn3y" signs. And Wiese feels equally connected to a fan base she knows is unique in women's basketball.

So she'll act like a dinosaur on the bench when a teammate makes a key bucket. Or twirl like a ballerina while "Dancing Queen" plays in celebration of last season's trip to the Sweet 16. Or clap her hands above her head after draining a crucial long-distance shot in last month's Civil War victory.

"I mean, when you make a three and you hear Gill scream the way they do," Wiese said, "of course you're going to get wild and crazy. Of course you're going to scream back at them. You can't not ...

"I hope people know that what you have been seeing is what I've been feeling. I have loved every second. Every second."

On OSU's trip to Arizona last month, every part of Wiese's past and present seemed to converge.  

Her family hosted the Beavers' entire traveling party for dinner at their home. After the Beavers beat Arizona State, Wiese lingered for close to an hour to greet 200-plus hometown supporters.

Eventually, only her parents and brother remained on the Wells Fargo Arena floor. And that's when Christian unfolded the sign he'd been holding in the front row throughout the game a "my best friend since '95."

Wiese bent over and dropped her head, her eyes immediately welling with tears.

Back in Corvallis, a visit to Wiese's current bedroom reveals another memory vault, this one spanning the past four years.

An American flag surrounded by photos of family and friends takes up practically the entire wall across from her bed. There are reminders of home, including a poster of the sun setting over Camelback Mountain and the net from her childhood hoop hanging from the closet. A photo of confetti falling on Wiese as she hugs former teammate Jamie Wesiner after last season's Pac-12 Tournament win has been printed on a canvas. Nike shoe boxes are stuffed with greeting cards, while the game ball from the Civil War at Gill sits on her bed.

And her landlord need not worry: She doesn't write on the walls here.

Though Rueck marvels that Wiese seemingly has "a billion best friends" on campus and beyond, Wiese considers herself an introvert. She'll retreat to this room to read her Bible or write in her journal, already filling five or six throughout a college experience she can sense is winding down.   

Wiese's senior day is Sunday's regular-season finale against California. In the midst of her final run through the NCAA Tournament, she'll graduate with a degree in speech communication. After that is the WNBA draft, and Wiese could be a first-round selection. a"a"

At some point after the season, Wiese will pack up this room in Corvallis and make a pit stop in Arizona. She expects she'll feel the same sense of calm when she temporarily steps back into the controlled chaos, before taking the next step forward in a life shaped by faith, family and basketball.  

"I go back in there, and everything is full circle," she said of her childhood room. "All the loose ends are tied tight. When I see that stuff, it reminds me of my purpose."

-- Gina Mizell | @ginamizell

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