Larry Wise’s road to WTAMU returned his passion for basketball, producing a remarkable career

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WTAMU forward Larry Wise re-found his passion for basketball playing for the Buffs. [Trevor Fleeman/ Press Pass Sports]
It was gone.

Simple as that for Larry Wise.

The passion, the love for the game of basketball gripping Wise since his grade school days growing up in Cedar Hill was nowhere to be found.

Maybe it was the ruptured patella tendon he suffered leaping during a North Texas practice of his third – and redshirt sophomore – season with the Mean Green.

Maybe it was the limited playing time of 18 games, 118 minutes and a total of 23 field goal attempts in those three North Texas seasons.

“North Texas was definitely a learning experience,” Wise said. “A lot of competitive basketball with a lot of great basketball players coming in. We had a lot of Juco players that were elite. Just battling against them was always fun.

“But it was definitely an experience probably playing 30-plus minutes coming out of high school and then you start playing against players just as good as you are. At times it was frustrating but I was glad I was able to do it. That experience taught me so many lessons. Just the game itself. You had to mature as a player and the pace of it. Physically, you had to adjust yourself.

“There were a lot of those days where I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep doing it. I had some good teammates who went through similar situations as well and they had their own experiences. So they had their down moments as well. That definitely helped.”

Whatever the reason, or reasons, in January of 2021 Wise and basketball were no longer best friends for life. That feeling of awaking and looking forward to getting some shots up in the gym had exited his soul.

“I had lost my passion for basketball,” said the soft-spoken, articulate Wise. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.”

West Texas A&M head men’s basketball coach Tom Brown was sure what he’d like for Wise to do.

Brown had seen, recruited and loved the overall game of the 6-foot-5 Wise when he played at Waxahachie High alongside West Texas player (at the time in 2021) Qua Grant.

“I really wanted Larry to come to West Texas out of high school,” Brown said. “But he went to North Texas. It just didn’t work out there.”

WTAMU forward has scored 1,665 career points for the Buffs which ranks him fifth on the all-time scoring list. [Trevor Fleeman/ Press Pass Sports]
Wise had watched the Buffs and Grant play a time or two making the trip over from UNT to Frisco, home of the Lone Star Conference Tournament.

“Obviously, Qua was at WT and that played a huge part in me deciding to come here,” Wise said. “I was able to see their success over the years. I actually came and watched some of their games (at Frisco) since I was nearby at UNT at the time. So I knew it was a pretty good program talking with Coach Brown and Coach (Quincy) Henderson, who was here at the time, and Coach (Chris) Gove. They gave me a vision of how they wanted to play basketball and that sounded like something I would be interested in.”

Some things are meant to be, and Wise transferring to WT is on that list.

In three years Wise’s life on and off the court has changed. His passion for basketball returned. His injured knee now strong. His game now producing award after award as his name will be forever listed on the greatest to ever wear the Buffs jersey.

And Wise knew from day one in Canyon, life would be different from UNT.

“I mean really coming to Canyon was finding myself and finding the love for the game,” Wise said. “After sitting those two years it was like just trying to build a rhythm back and coming off a knee injury like that and find my strength.

“My first day in Canyon was a little bit both (awesome and what I have gotten myself into). I was like it’s going to be strictly basketball. That’s what I’m going to focus on. There aren’t going to be any distractions, that’s for sure.”

WT head coach Brown said Wise’s growth as a player has been immense at WT and the way he goes about getting it done is a pleasure to watch.

“There is no question about how different a player Larry is since he arrived,” Brown said. “He has gotten better every year. Coming here was great for him and really great for us. The passion is definitely there.”

Wise’s devotion to improving included many a late night alone in the First United Bank Center getting shots up, this after a two-hour practice during the day.

“Sometimes it’s late at night, like midnight,” Wise said. “It’s fun. Sometimes I play loud music and zone out for a little bit and work on my game.”

Awww, Wise’s game.

Those who know Wise best know a fist pump out of him is like the full eclipse of the sun happening and that’s like once every 20 years.

But his refusal to show-up opponents or be flamboyant can’t be confused for a lack of passion to win or get results.

When WT meets North Georgia in the Elite Eight national quarterfinals Wise will play in his 101st game as a Buff.

Wise enters with 1,665 career points scored, fifth on the Buffs all-time scoring list. His 186 3-pointers made ranks sixth all-time. This year per game he is averaging 20 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

Wise shrugs off the numbers saying every day in practice he visits with the all-time WT scoring leader, WT assistant coach David Chavlovich.

“It’s not something I necessarily pay attention to until you sit down and think what just happened,” Wise said of the numbers he put up at WT. “Like, it’s just crazy. I see a guy like Coach Chav every day in practice and it’s like he’s the all-time leading scorer and he’s just one of us. So I know I can’t be feeling like I’m anything up there crazy.”

WTAMU forward Larry Wise was named the NCAA Division II South-Central Regional MVP. [Trevor Fleeman/ Press Pass Sports]
Wise’s shelves at home are packed these days with trophies and plaques from the Lone Star Conference Player of the Year award to the South-Central Region MVP and the DIICCA South Central Regional Player of the Year. Just Monday he was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-South Central Region team.

Ask those around Wise to talk about him and gushing is an understatement.

Said Brown: “Larry is a smart, intelligent, articulate young man. He’s just a great kid. Larry may not do the rah-rah stuff. But he still wants to win and compete as much as anybody.

“Larry can do it all on the court.

“He can really create his own shot. He’s a good shooter from three so you can’t leave him open. You look at him he’s a perfect athlete with a great body. He’s 6-5, he’s sneaky athletic. He’s not I’m-going-to-go-and-try-and-rip-the-rim-down but he can get up and throw it down. He can get to the basket. He can spin on you and he can get to the bucket and score on you.”

Said WT play-by-play announcer Kent Johnson: “When I look back over Larry’s three-year career, you realize what he’s accomplished, how many games he’s won, the stats he’s posted, and the fact that he has done all this in the most humble and unassuming manner I’ve ever seen a player perform at this level. Coming to us from North Texas, where he was a member of a team that won a game in the Division I tournament, he’s been one of our top two scorers every year that he’s been with the Buffaloes. He’s also been one of our top two rebounders as well as the assist man. He does it in a manner that is totally team focused and without a hint of drawing attention to himself.

He had the opportunity to enter the portal this past summer and he dabbled at it, but he realized that the opportunity to win a championship was in front of him if he stayed at West Texas and that’s the decision he made.

He won LSC player of the year and South Central region player of the year. His focus isn’t on thumping his chest, but on winning three more games this week in Evansville and that sums up Larry Wise as much as anything.”

Said senior teammate Zach Toussaint, the second leading scorer in WT history: “What a special player Larry is and I’m so honored to play with him the past three years and be by his side this whole time. He’s even a better person. He’s my best friend.”

Wise’s most recent moment in the sun arrived in the South Central regional finals against Colorado Mesa.

The Buffs trailed Mesa 35-27 at halftime with a trip to the Elite Eight riding on the outcome.

Wise went bonkers in the second half scoring 23 of his game-high 29 points, grabbing key rebounds, dishing out assists and playing a jaw-dropping half that led to an 88-76 win.

The vocal crowd chanted MVP! MVP! MVP! Late in the game as Wise was at the free throw line.

“I heard that,” Wise said breaking into a smile. “I almost missed I was so amazed. I was like I can’t believe I’m hearing this right now.”

All of Wise’s greatness that night arrived while playing on a pretty bad sprained ankle suffered two days before.

Colorado Mesa coach CMU coach Mike DeGeorge said: “I don’t know how Wise was able to play like that in the second half with his ankle. I told him after the game that I don’t know if I have ever witnessed a performance like that the way he was hurting. It was incredible.”

WT assistant coach Chavlovich, remember the all-time leading scorer in WT history, shook his head after the game and said: “The best second half of basketball I have ever seen by a college player.”

So what changed in the second half?

“Honestly, the mindset was just leave it all out there and live with the results,” Wise said. “I think we were kind of stagnant in that game. We knew what the magnitude of that game was being in front of the home crowd and all the narratives going on. We just had to let ourselves go and play that second half and it resulted in what you saw.”

One play in particular showed the unselfish player Wise is on the court.

WT sophomore Brock Mishak missed a corner 3-pointer at a crucial time in the game. Wise secured the offensive rebound and immediately passed it back to Mishak who was in the same place.

Mishak buried the three.

“As a player you want give guys like that confidence,” Wise said.” You don’t want to shy away from those moments. Like I’m in the gym with Brock and I know what type of work he puts in so I know giving it back to him is no problem. And even if he does miss that I’m living with that after the game. If he had missed that second one I had would have given it right back to him.”

The Buffs will play in their fourth NCAA Division II Elite Eight in 10 years. [Trevor Fleeman/ Press Pass Sports]
For Wise and two other starting seniors – Toussaint and LSC Defensive Player of the Year Ryland Holt – this 2024 Elite Eight will be the last time the trio wears the Buffs uniform.

WT is 29-4 this year and the past two seasons won 27 and 28 games, respectively. That’s a ton of success with Wise, Toussaint and Holt playing major roles in the success.

“Everything you can think of good that’s what it’ been like playing with those two,” Wise said of Toussaint and Holt.

Wise also praised the WT coaching staff of head coach Brown, associated head coach Gove and assistant coach Chavlovich.

“I can’t thank those three guys Coach Brown, Coach Gove and Coach Chav enough,” Wise said. “I thank them for giving me the opportunity to play for them and trust me, especially, after the crazy injury like I had and not much film at UNT.  It’s been an amazing three years with them.

“I feel like they have a great sense of allowing a player to be who they’ve always been, plus, balancing in what needs to be done for the sake of the team to win games. I think that’s what makes them unique. They know how to balance that out. It’s helped us win a lot of games.”

Brown said Wise is one of the good guys in this world and thankful he had the chance to coach him.

“He’s the best teammate,” Brown said. “It’s hard to say one thing that makes him that way. I was watching yesterday in practice and as our guys are coming out of practice it doesn’t matter if it’s freshman Mackenzie Morgan, or Brock Mishak or Ryland Holt, he’s giving high fives and he’s keeping guys up. He’s just a true person. He’s not faking it. He’s not rah-rah. He is genuine. He keeps things positive, and you want to be around people that are positive like that.

“There are no negatives with Larry. He’s a great student. He’s a great person. It’s been a lot of fun. We are really going to miss him next year.”

Wise said his last piece of business on the basketball court for WT is to bring home the schools’ first-ever men’s basketball national championship.

“That would be great for this school overall,” Wise said.  “We have some great sports in general at this school. It would be great to be in that company.

“We can do it if we stick to who we are and what we have been doing all season. Just sticking together and working together and sticking to our principles. Just leaving it all out there and playing as hard as we can.”

Wise said the move from UNT to West Texas A&M, then forgoing the portal this past summer for one last try at D-I to stay at WT leaves with him no regrets.

Only thanks.

Thanks he got his mojo back, his smile back, his passion back for the game of basketball he truly loves.

“My career at WT has meant everything to me,” Wise said. “I found my joy for the game again. I met great people along the way. I’ve had some great teammates over the years that I don’t think I will ever stop talking to them. I think we have a great bond and a great relationship that hopefully I’m at their wedding one day.”

Division II Elite Eight
Men’s Basketball Championships
At Ford Center, Evansville, Ind.

Note: West Texas A&M games can be heard on 102.9 FM the Panhandle Sports Star with Kent Johnson doing play-by-play and Lucas Kinsey color commentary.

Tuesday’s Quarterfinals 

No. 3 Gannon vs. No. 6 Cal State-San Bernardino, noon

No .2 Nova Southeastern vs. No. 7 Southern N.H., 2:30 p.m.

No. 1 Minnesota State vs. No. 8 Ferris State, 6 p.m.

No. 4 West Texas A&M vs. No. 5 North Georgia, 8:30 p.m.

Thursday’s Semifinals

Gannon-Cal State-San Bernardino winner vs. Nova Southeastern-Southern N.H. winner, 1 p.m.

Minnesota State-Ferris State winner vs. West Texas A&M-North Georgia winner, 3:30 p.m.

Saturday’s Championship

2 p.m.

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