Season’s end too soon for Wise, IU

Indiana women’s basketball had a team meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

There were no high-fives or hugs, just a Brady Bunch-esque set of tiles across the computer screen as players and staff each checked in via Zoom from living rooms, bedrooms and patios across the country — and even the world in the case of Aleksa Gulbe, back in her home country of Latvia.

It was the first time the Hoosiers had been in the same place at the same time in 12 days, a much-needed therapeutic exercise for lone senior Brenna Wise.

“The extravert in me is dying for social interaction,” Wise said by phone Tuesday from Hilton Head, S.C., where she is finding social distancing to be an easy task.

It was anything but easy on March 12 as Wise and her teammates gathered for a team weightlifting session ahead of what was scheduled to be a 5 o’clock practice.

The news broke on social media at 4:16 p.m., just as the session was about to start — the NCAA Tournament was canceled.

The season was over, and Selection Monday was still four days away for a squad that had a chance to host as a top-four seed.

“We had about 10 minutes or so to digest the news (before the coaches arrived),” Wise said. “It was heart-wrenching.”

IU coach Teri Moren and her staff had spent the previous two days recruiting out West. They flew back on the 12th, and as the dominos of cancellation began to fall before take-off, the outlook was grim.

“It told me this thing was probably not going to happen,” Moren said.

That didn’t make it any less of punch to the gut when the news officially broke on the ride back to Bloomington from Indianapolis.

“I had little time to prepare what I wanted to say,” Moren said. “I was in shock. It didn’t seem real to have to face those guys and tell them there wouldn’t be a tournament.”

The team was waiting in the locker room, players already having taken a moment to share their thoughts, when Moren and staff arrived.

As Moren addressed her team, the reality hit just a little bit harder for Wise, and when she locked eyes with her coach for just a moment, the tears began to flow unabated.

“As she started talking, it all resonated deep in my heart,” Wise said. “I looked at her and could see how disappointed she was, and she saw how disappointed I was.”

In spite of the emotions, it was still difficult to reconcile a new reality, one in which team members went their own way with on-campus classes canceled.

“I was like, ‘There’s no way. There’s no way,’” Wise said. “I was still working out, and it didn’t feel real, but we all had to move quickly. It wasn’t like packing for a trip, it was like, I’m not going to come back. I didn’t pack everything so I’d have a reason to come back. We put Aleksa on a flight, people were in cars.”

Getting Gulbe a flight home before travel bans kicked in was a relief for Moren.

“She got home just in time, so that was good,” Indiana’s sixth-year head coach said, now working from home with the aid of her Jack Russell terriers. “Knowing the kids would go back to their families gave us a sense of peace, but I don’t know how much it’s kicked in.

“Maybe (Tuesday) is the first time (it seems real). Last week, I allowed myself to decompress and just try to figure out what my new norm was going to become. It’s just been a really weird moment in time, no basketball on TV. I think we’ll look back and say, ‘I just can’t believe this happened and the kids didn’t have the opportunity they earned.’ As real as it is, it doesn’t quite seem real. I wake up every morning, and say is this really happening?”

Even now, nearly two weeks later, Wise is grappling with the same question, at times resorting to cardio workouts to “sweat it out.”

“Everything I’d ever worked for, wanted and dreamed of from an athletic standpoint was stripped from me,” she said. “The worst part is in life you go down with a fight, and I didn’t get a chance to do that.

“You go through peaks and valleys and adversity for that moment, then you don’t get to do that.”

In spite of those frustrations, Wise has not given in to self-pity and maintained perspective.

“It’s not just us, it’s the whole country, the whole world,” she said. “I’m not the only one stripped of my dreams, so it would be easy to say, ‘Woe is me,’ but that’s not who I am.

“You think of Cassius Winston, Sabrina Ionescu, all the big names in college basketball, they don’t get that. It hurts because I don’t get another shot at it, but our whole team worked for it.

“Then I think of the spring sports. They didn’t even get to play their senior seasons. I can’t imagine if I came in, did all the work in August and September, played three or four games and then we were done.”

With the team meeting in the rearview mirror, Wise will resume work on her degree with online classes Monday and is also getting a head start on pursuing a coaching career, even if it seems like she should still be playing.

“I’m vigorously pursuing the next stage, reaching out to schools even though the athletic realm is at a standstill,” Wise said. “I can’t sulk. You have to pick up and be ready for what’s next.

“It just makes it a little harder. I always say I like a challenge in life, but this is a challenge for me.”

3 comments

  1. As hard and serious as this is life tends to draw things back into perspective through the history of time.
    It was an excellent season for the IU Ladies that has greatness in it. Not far from a great season and Ladies basketball program.
    Congrats to Breana Wise and the model college student athlete she represents. Congrats to all the IU Ladies basketball program both, players and coaches.
    Thanks, for a memorable entertaining and self image that is what’s wanted and needed at Indiana University.

    Congrats, to Patberg and Berger as top ten finalists in region 4 for NCAA Division I Coaches All America Team.

  2. I just feel so bad for Brenna that her basketball career ends this way! Of course, no one could see this coming and the shock of these events had to be gut wrenching for our lone senior much more than the others since it ended her basketball career. Her desire and extraordinary hustle that she displayed in every game she played for IU was exceptional! Her leadership will be sorely missed next year. Her grittiness and drive she showed in every game was truly a great example for her teammates! Her enthusiasm for her teammates success was truly inspirational from game to game! She was a true “Hoosier” although she only played here for 2 years. Players of high character as she exhibited every game are what you look for as a coach. Brenna, you were a pleasure to watch and cheer for and I hope that you attain all of the success in life that you desire!! Go Hoosiers!

  3. Everyone feels deeply for the whole team , but especially for Brenna our lone senior who will not get her chance to go out with a fight, instead it is stripped from her, the leader and captain of this team, let alone the leading rebounder for the two years she has been at IU. But Im not worried about Brenna she has success written all over her, it is the sadness of how it all ended after a long season of hard work. All the best to you Brenna in your endeavors and life.

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