Heart and a high basketball IQ.
Even after being in the recruiting spotlight since he was a freshman in high school Wise is sort of a mystery. As one college coach said while watching Wise "he could lead Arizona to two Final Fours or he could never start a game, I am just not sure which."
I feel the same way.
I have probably seen Wise play 20 times over the past three summers. Sometimes he looks like the best player on the floor and other times he completely disappears. Sometimes he completely looks like the player that had Texas and Arizona battling it out before he could drive a car and other times he looks like an above average player.
That being said, Wise has been really turning heads lately. Even his biggest critics have been praising him.
"Many people… have been pretty tough on Wise over the past few years," said recruiting analyst Eric Bossi back in December. "He's been called out of shape, overrated, and flat out not good enough to play at Arizona. At this point, the author would like to personally apologize to Wise for doubting him because the bottom line is that the powerfully built 5-9 PG is a winner who craves the opportunity to deliver when the game is on the line."
The biggest knock on Wise has been his build. He's short and thick. Most assumed he'd grow after he committed. He's also much stockier than your prototypical basketball player. He's built more like a football player than he is a hoopster. Previously he was carrying around some baby fat. He was not out of shape, but he was not as cut as he could be. That has changed. As he has gotten older he has done a remarkable job transforming his physique. He's a strong player who has obviously found his way around a weight room.
I still have some concerns about his ability to create his own shot and I am by no means convinced he will be a star at Arizona, but I do think he is an important recruit for the Wildcats. Nic Wise has two things this team is lacking.
He's clutch and he has a high basketball IQ.
Wise is at his best when the game is on the line. He's a winner. He's a fighter. He led his high school team to the Texas 5A State Championship as a junior. He has led the Houston Hoops to numerous AAU Tournament titles.
Dating back to last March the Wildcats have lost eight games in the final minutes, including several where the Wildcats had leads at the final television timeouts. Everything from careless turnovers to poor free throw shooting has doomed the Cats.
They need someone like Wise. Even if he isn't the guy to drain the game winner, he can be a steadying influence. They need players who remain calm and composed when the pressure is on. Nic Wise appears to be one of those players. They need a player who will refuse to lose
"He played with heart, made his teammates better and did it all with the type of self confidence that you love to see in a star player," Bossi said after watching Wise play last month. "On top of that he's in tip-top physical condition and as a result has improved his quickness making him even more dangerous."
The Wildcats also need to add some high hoops IQ guys. This year's team is severely lacking in that department. The Wildcats have a roster full of great competitors and even greater athletes, but they don't seem to have a ton of guys who truly get the game.
One only needs to look at the final moments of regulation this season to see two perfect examples. First was Chris Rodgers' defense of Brandon Roy on the game tying shot. With the Cats leading by three, the only shot that kills the Cats is a three-pointer. Even though the whole arena knows that Roy must take a three, Rodgers is inside the arc, giving Roy just enough room to launch the three that would send the game into overtime. To make matters worse, Rodgers is unaware that a screen is being set and tripped right before Roy shot, in effect giving Roy a wide-open look.
The Cats had a chance to win the game on the next possession and Mustafa Shakur did a great job driving the lane, but held the ball too long and the Cats did not get a shot off.
Now, there is no guarantee that Wise would have made a difference in any of those situations, but he's a heady player. He makes up for some of his physical limitations by having great instincts and knowing the game.
Arizona's best teams had high basketball IQ guys. Players like Steve Kerr, Reggie Geary, Jason Gardner and Luke Walton all had a great feel for the game. Players like Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and Damon Stoudamire all had great floor awareness. Those guys were also pretty clutch.
Many key reserves, though never stars, knew the game. Justin Wessel is a great example. When he came in a game he was steady. He might not light it up or grab a ton of rebounds, but he would not make mistakes either. He would give the Cats quality minutes.
Wise's future is a bit of a mystery. Will he be a star or a super-sub? Will he be a patient four-year player or can his guts and smarts earn him a spot in the rotation over players who were rated higher?
Wise is a wildcard, but he may also be the type of shot in the arm this program needs.