Wiese's drive started in the driveway
CORVALLIS — Driveway.
That's the word Sydney Wiese always says to herself to get re-centered during a game, particularly if her shot doesn't feel quite right.
"It brings me back to my foundation and where it all started," Wiese said.
Suddenly, her mind goes to her childhood front yard in Phoenix, where she'd cover the cacti with boxes to prevent the basketball from popping and then work tirelessly to perfect her smooth — albeit slightly unorthodox — shooting stroke.
It's a stroke that has quickly made Wiese one of the top long-distance shooters in women's college basketball. And it's a stroke that led to history less than two years into Wiese's Oregon State career when she broke the school record for 3-pointers Friday night in the No. 8 Beavers' 70-64 win over No. 12 Arizona State. She made two, giving her 180 in her career. The old mark was 178.
"It's amazing what she's done," coach Scott Rueck said earlier in the week. "There's been a lot of great players in this program through the years, so for her to catch and surpass them as a sophomore, it's remarkable."
The driveway may be where Wiese most remembers developing her shot. But, really, it all began at the gym at Horizon High School, where her father, Troy, was the coach and would bring her along to his summer camps each June.
Initially, Sydney would kill the hours by watching movies. But in second or third grade, she jumped in on the shooting drills with the other campers.
Sydney still recites some of her dad's teaching techniques today, such as referring to the proper placement of the shooting hand before releasing the ball as "the pocket," and correct follow through as "reaching into the cookie jar." When she first heaved the ball toward the hoop with two hands or pushed the ball with her opposite thumb as a youngster, Troy could help her make that small tweak.
"It wasn't like I force-fed it in the backyard," Troy said. "I always gave her advice when she was shooting, but she just basically was part of the crew (at the camps) and listened and did well."
Next comes that driveway. Wiese would make up her own drills, forcing herself to sink four or five shots in a row before moving onto the next spot on the pavement. If she missed, she grew more and more frustrated. She vividly remembers a time in sixth or seventh grade, where she dropped to lay on the ground and talk to herself and a couple strolling through the neighborhood stopped to ask if she was OK.
"I'd be yelling, on the verge of tears," the happy-go-lucky Wiese says now with a laugh. "I was like, 'I'm so mad right now.'"
Eventually, that intense discipline led her to settling on her signature shooting form, one that is comfortable for her yet far from traditional.
The lefty does not set her feet straight on, but points her toes to her right. She brings her hands in a bit of a circular motion in front of her body before setting up to release the ball. High school teammates pointed out the unique traits, but it wasn't until arriving at OSU — where photos and video footage are far more prevalent — that she realized what exactly she looked like while shooting the ball.
"It might look weird to people, but it feels good to me," Wiese said.
Added Troy: "That's one thing I noticed right away ... your feet should be pointed at the basket you're shooting at. Her feet were aiming at other baskets (in the gym). It's kind of like a person who has a hitch in their batting stroke or golf stroke. If they're getting the job done, you really don't want to switch it. I'd mention it to her, 'What are you doing?' Until she's really in a slump ... you might as well just keep it."
Wiese's reputation as a dangerous shooter grew at Pinnacle High School. She nailed seven treys — including five in a row — in a state semifinal game as a sophomore, Troy recalls. Rueck remembers watching her drain a slew of "clutch 3s" while propelling her team to victory during an AAU tournament in Chicago. As a four-star recruit, she was a perfect fit for OSU's offense.
And since arriving in Corvallis, Rueck said he has not touched Wiese's mechanics. The coach points out that her release point is pure, that the ball comes off the same finger every time.
Instead, Rueck's goal has been to get Wiese the ball in the best spots to shoot. She often uses the high pick-and-roll, where she works the area near the right wing before letting it fly from that "sweet spot." She acknowledges she loves the transition 3 — "Jimmer range," as she calls it in a nod to former BYU sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette — though there isn't as much opportunity for that at the college level.
Still, the results in less than two seasons have been staggering. Wiese hit 112 shots from downtown last season, which set a school record and a Pac-12 freshman record and stands as the second-best single-season total in conference history. She's nailed another 68 treys so far this season, leading the Pac-12 and ranking 19th nationally in makes per game (2.9).
"She's earned the right to be as confident as she is in it," Rueck said " ... If you give her an inch, she's prepared to take it."
Moving forward, Wiese is still working on getting her feet set faster, so she can let go of her shot faster. She also hopes to eventually apply her stroke to developing a stronger mid-range game. And she's also learned how to self-correct her form, such as making sure her knees are bent enough when her shot is a bit flat. Rueck said he also offers the occasional tips — like when Wiese went through a mini slump last month — but jokes those details are "top secret."
"It's sort of like a machine," Wiese said. "If one part isn't working, then you have to find it in order for it all to work. I'm to the point where I sort of know what feels comfortable and what to fix when I need to."
It's fitting that Wiese's family was in attendance Friday when she broke the record. Just one more reminder of the driveway.
"That's when I was like, 'OK, Syd. You just have to relax and shoot the ball.'"