Despite knowing there was a chance it could be cut short, Da’Zhon Wyche is grateful for the time he had on the court this season playing back in his hometown.
So was the University of Alaska Anchorage men’s basketball program, where Wyche transferred last summer to conclude his collegiate career.
It came to an abrupt end earlier this month after his petition to receive an eligibility waiver from the NCAA to compete in the second half of the season was denied.
“I couldn’t really be too mad at the outcome but I’m gonna stay with the team and try to impact the team and try to help us win in different ways than out there being on the court,” Wyche said.
Even though it was short-lived and ended with some heartbreak, Wyche said the time he got to spend suiting up and playing for his hometown college team “felt amazing” and admitted that part of him wishes he could’ve done it sooner.
“I don’t want to necessarily say that I wish I came here earlier in my career because of all the past relationships I’ve made but it was definitely an amazing moment in my life that I’ll never forget,” Wyche said.
When he first got the news of the ruling, the 25-year-old said it “felt like the end of the world.” In a sense it was the end of one world.
The former West High standout would no longer be able to take the court with the teammates he established a fast bond with. But he said the love and support he received from those teammates, family and the coaching staff lifted his spirits.
Even before he got the ruling, he intended to stick around and support the team in whatever way he could if his petition was denied.
Now that it has, he is staying true to his commitment to the program by staying on as a volunteer assistant coach.
“I’ve been balling with my brothers since August so just to abandon them at this time wouldn’t be right,” Wyche said. “We made it halfway through the season and they became my brothers over the last couple months so just leaving them would be worse than me not being able to play.”
Seawolves head coach Rusty Osborne said Wyche brings many of the same traits to the sideline that made him a great player.
“Da’Zhon is from a basketball family,” Osborne said. “He’s a point guard, he understands the game. His family understands the game and he has a lot of respect in our lockerroom from our guys.”
Wyche indicated to them that he might want to coach someday so they viewed this as a good chance to potentially jumpstart his coaching career.
“He knows the offense, he knows what we’re trying to accomplish,” Osborne said. “He’ll also bring a vision that’s different from the rest of the coaching staff. He’s been out on the floor with those guys, so he can give us that perspective so I expect that he’ll be very valuable to us as we get down the stretch.”
Junior guard Tyson Gilbert said receiving the news that Wyche’s eligibility had run out and his petition had been denied was heartbreaking for the team.
“Da’Zhon is just such a great kid and great person,” Gilbert said. “He’s somebody that you love being around and love having in your locker room and love just playing alongside.”
Although Wyche’s time on the court with the Seawolves was short, his teammates believe his presence was immensely impactful both on and off the court.
“He brought so much energy and excitement to this program and that was so incredibly cool to see,” Gilbert said.
Wyche’s playing career is still far from over. He intends on playing basketball professionally overseas and will start looking at options soon.
“I have to start looking into that more now,” he said. “It’s something I look forward to and will go anywhere I get the chance.”
A snag in the transfer process
When Wyche entered the transfer portal last spring after leaving University of Texas at Tyler, he and his family reached out to the Seawolves coaching staff to see if they were interested in him transferring to his hometown team.
“Of course we said yes,” Osborne said. “We had recruited Da’Zhon three years ago when he was looking for a four-year school after his junior college career. He was back in Anchorage and had come over the office a number of times so we had a relationship with him and family already.”
While administering the transfer, UAA discovered that he had used 11 of 12 available semesters already with his COVID exception, which meant he was only going to be able to play one semester
Wyche had sat out a year to focus on academics, so the university thought there was a strong case to get him a waiver to compete in the spring semester.
“Unfortunately, it was denied so his career had to end after the semester which he and I and his family knew was a possibility as far back as June when we’re in the process,” Osborne said.
Being a role model in the community
Not only did the Seawolves believe in the tremendous impact that he could make on the court, but they also knew that he would be an excellent role model for the younger generation in Anchorage, particularly kids of color.
“The things that he bounced through, overcoming some academic difficulties, early persevering, coming through and becoming a college graduate and fulfilling his dreams,” Osborne said. “I think those are valuable things for the youth of Anchorage, especially ones that look like him who identify with him in his background.
“It’s one thing for Tobin Karlberg to be successful, but for a young African American community, yes, that has some impact, but not as much as somebody who looks like them. Da’Zhon is a tremendous young man ... He is going to be somebody who contributes to this community as he grows older because I just know what’s in his heart and in his mind.”
Given all of those factors, he said that Wyche joining the program was a “no-brainer ... whether it was four or five months or nine months or four years.”
Wyche had “no idea” that he’d have such an impact on the community, especially among younger generations of African Americans.
“Honestly, it’s been a blessing,” Wyche said. “It surprised me how many little kids look up to me or wear the No. 0 for their team. It just warms my heart and is a great feeling.”
Filling the star-shaped void
Replacing player of Wyche’s caliber on the court will be no easy task. He was the team’s leading scorer through their first 14 games, averaging a team-leading 15.8 points per game and also led the team in both assists (63) and steals (35).
“We’ve been looking at things since we knew this was gonna transpire,” Osborne said. “We’ve been putting players in different roles in order to get ready for that. We’ve been doing some different things system-wise, that are more conducive to the guys who are going to be out there than with him.”
Osborne admits it will look different moving forward without Wyche because “nobody can replicate what he does.” However, he believes the team can still be successful and will look for several players to step up in expanded roles.
One such player that Osborne mentioned was junior guard Caleb Larsen, who played a bigger role for the Seawolves last year but had not played as much with Wyche in the lineup in the first half of the season.
“We have a ton of confidence in Caleb,” he said. “He’s been around the block in our league and has success in our league so his role will certainly expand. We’re still playing with some other things and you’ll see other players maybe playing some different positions than they have so far at different times but I think Caleb will be the one you see on the floor a lot more.”