It was late. The only people left in the Peterson Center around 11 p.m. were Brenna and Stu Wise. Brenna was an up-and-coming underclassman for the Pittsburgh Panthers’ women’s basketball team. Stu was a businessman living in Pittsburgh, and Brenna’s dad.
This wasn’t the first time these two had stayed up late to shoot hoops. It certainly wouldn’t be the last time either. But this time was special.
Brenna has always been a great shooter. Her old AAU coach, John Miller, father of Indiana men’s basketball coach Archie Miller, had bought the family a shooting machine for their driveway because he knew Brenna would put it to use.
She stepped to the free-throw line. She made 10 in a row. Then 20. Then 30.
Normally, the father and daughter talk about anything and everything while shooting. But as the number continued to climb, the chatter stopped.
Brenna hit 50. 60. 70. Finally, she missed. She had made 72 free throws in a row.
A lot has changed since that night. Brenna has transferred, moved far away from home, and sat out a full season. But no matter where she is, her dad is always there.
“Those were great nights,” Stu said. “Great bonding for a father and his daughter.”
One Easter, with his kids still in grade school, Stu gave Brenna and her brother what she described as “the greatest thing that could have ever happened.” He surprised his kids with a new Guerilla basketball hoop in the driveway. The setup was only enhanced by the addition of John Miller’s shooting machine a few years after.
Basketball has always been in the Wise family, but it wasn’t always the focus for Brenna. As a kid, she was a star in the youth soccer circuit.
In fact, when an AAU coach asked her about taking her basketball career to the next step in fourth grade, she declined.
She said she wasn’t ready. Even as a fourth grader, Brenna knew she didn’t have the necessary drive yet.
An early weakness for Brenna was confidence. She enjoyed watching her brother play but wasn’t sure she was ready for a full-on pursuit of a basketball career.
Her older brother, Ryan, was a solid athlete in high school, playing both basketball and baseball. Stu recalls many days watching the two of them battle relentlessly in the driveway. The competition made Brenna want more.
Before she fully committed to AAU, around fourth grade, she looked at her parents and asked them one simple question.
“Do you think I’ll ever be good enough?”
Stu and his wife answered this the way any parent would answer a question like that from their fourth-grade daughter, with support.
“We just wanted her to be successful,” Stu said. “She put the effort in. She may not be the most athletic, but she’s going to give you everything she’s got.”
The next time Stu asked his daughter if she was ready for AAU, about a year later, she was ready.
There was one rule in the Wise household: homework had to be completed before any basketball could be played.
“It was just so great to be outside,” Brenna said. “That was our goal, to go outside.”
They played every game a 10-year-old could ever come up with. One-on-one, horse, puke it (a game in which the ball cannot touch the ground), 21 and many more. Some days they would play horse, but with words as long as supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, just to stay outside.
But it was more than just games. It was family bonding. It was competition, learning to win, learning to lose.
“Life lessons begin in the driveway,” Brenna said. “That’s where we built our love of the game together.”
Stu recalls one Christmas Eve where Brenna was out in the garage working on her ball handling, despite having snow on the ground and extended family in town. There have been countless other times where she shoveled the driveway just to get some shots up on a cold, winter day.
That Guerilla hoop got so much use the Wises had to change the rim. Stu says it’s still in the house and he is working on finding a place to show it off.
“We kept the rim because it has so many memories,” Brenna said.
All of this work has created a D1-level work ethic for Wise, leading her on a path to Pittsburgh, where she played two seasons. She led Pitt in scoring and rebounding in her two seasons there.
At Indiana, she was third in scoring and was seventh in the NCAA in free-throw percentage in 2018-19. Now she’s the senior leader on a team devoid of seniors. She’s excelling and leading, and she has her dad to thank for that.
“I’m so grateful for my dad because there’s days where I didn’t believe in my dream and he did,” Brenna said. “I’m forever grateful for that. I don’t think I’d be here without that man.”
Everything has always been a competition between Brenna and Stu. She described her dad as “a workout fanatic.” He will text her some mornings at 6 a.m., telling her that he worked out already and that “while you’re sleeping, people are out-working you.”
Stu promised Brenna that when she was good enough to compete with him, he would start tying his shoes. By the time she was in 7th grade, his shoes were double knotted, and she was still blowing by him to the basket.
“The gap is increasing,” Brenna said, about whether or not her dad can still hang with her.
While he still competes when they shoot hoops, his main competition now is making it to every game. When Brenna played for Pitt, he was a short 25-30 minute drive from the Peterson Center. Things got more difficult once she transferred to Indiana.
He’s been anywhere from the Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico to UCLA to Minnesota. He can only recall missing two games: last year at Nebraska and one game while she was at Pitt due to a snow storm.
“I think my wife would have killed me if I took the 10-year-old in the snow storm,” Stu said.
It only makes sense that he’s there every step of the way. That’s how it was growing up. They watched basketball, both college and the NBA. He coached her up until her junior high years.
He’s her ultimate rebounder. While at Pitt, whenever she needed to get shots up, all she had to do was dial up her dad and she would have a rebounder. It didn’t matter if it was 6 a.m. or 11 p.m., he was there.
“I look back at it now and he was probably like, ‘Oh my gosh, what am I doing?’” Brenna said.
These late nights together made her decision in 2017 that much harder. After spending two seasons at Pittsburgh, her hometown school, Brenna decided she wanted a fresh start. She wanted to play in NCAA Tournaments, Sweet 16s, etc., and she didn’t see that happening at Pitt.
“My initial reaction was probably a great idea to at least look a transition if she wanted to reach her goals and I think that was the objective,” Stu said.
He assured Brenna not to worry about the travel time from home. He said they’ll find a way to the games no matter what.
They still train together, even with Brenna at Indiana. When she’s home, that’s at the top of the to-do list every day.
Brenna plays with a smile that is almost plastered on her face. It takes a lot to get rid of it.
That’s by design, Stu’s design.
“He always reminds me to smile when I’m out there,” Brenna said. “It’s basketball.”
When Brenna passes any teammate at any time during the game, there’s a high-five attempt. When she takes a charge, she’s pumped, but when someone else takes a charge, she rushes over to be the first one to pull her teammate up and give her a chest bump.
The energy and enthusiasm she plays with is contagious. It mirrors what she’s been taught all her life. Her wanting to be there for her teammates is just like her dad always being there for her, even if it’s just a simple text message.
Even if he won’t admit it, there’s a part of Stu that takes the floor every game for the Hoosiers. And there’s a part of Stu that shoots free throws and 3-pointers well after practice is over. That’s just who the Wises are.
“She deserves all the credit,” Stu said. “She is very, very passionate. I was not nearly as good as her.”
So, it came as no surprise to Stu that in the season opener of 2019, Brenna knocked down her first shot from the floor. It came as no surprise that she started the game 3-for-3. That’s just who she is. That’s who she was raised to be.
“I am not surprised,” Stu said. “She missed a few in the exhibition so she said, ‘I’m going to turn it around to start the game.’”
As the season flips the calendar to 2019, Brenna has a new consecutive made free throws record. One day, during a practice at Indiana, surrounded by her teammates, she knocked down 117 free throws in a row. There was one man missing.
“Unfortunately that wasn’t with him,” Brenna said. “But he believes me. He knows.”
Stu’s been a part of almost every step of the journey for Brenna. Her biggest tribute to him is that now she’s doing it herself by herself. Stu has raised her to be her own player.
“It’s been fun to watch, as a parent, to see your daughter play at something that she loves, enjoys and is passionate about,” Stu said. “Doesn’t get much better.”