by Matthew Snyder / @schnides14
Jamie Weisner readjusted her grip on two bags of ice and walked along a Maples Pavilion corridor toward her teammate, Sydney Wiese, who was talking about t-shirts.
See, after Wiese committed to Oregon State as a high school senior 16 months ago, her father, Troy, had an idea. Why not make t-shirts combining Wiese and Weisner’s similar-sounding names?
While that particular campaign has yet to take off, another has taken its place, without any hang-ups over ‘I before E.’ Thanks to their sweet shooting this season—through the first 12 games, both had made better than 45 percent of their threes (Wiese currently rests at 42.9 percent, Weisner at 43.3 percent) they have become known as the #SwishSisters.
Their shooting motions are as different as they are effective, true extensions of their styles of play. Wiese, a 6-0 freshman lefty who scores 13.1 points per game, turns both feet to the right of the hoop before rising in rhythm, her shots often preceded by a syncopated crossover that has a running meter on the number of times it has bested defenders.
The 5-10 Weisner, a sophomore averaging a team-best 15.4 points, uses a high, cocked-back release point best illustrated on long-range shots preceded by devastating jab-steps, which many a coach has spent sleepless nights figuring out how to stop. She’ll shoot in motion or off the dribble, navigating through a series of pull-ups, layups, threes and, as Wiese adds half-jokingly in illustrating a point about Weisner’s well-versed arsenal, she’ll even throw in a few half-court shots for good measure. Sag off them at your own peril.
With blink-and-you-miss-it releases and ranges that extend well beyond the three-point line—though perhaps not to half-court, at least during games—they need but an inch, if that, to get their shots off.
Should they continue their barrage from deep, there’s a very good chance both could break the existing single-season program record for three-pointers (75). Wiese is currently on pace to hit 99, Weisner, 81. They are the defining faces of a philosophy that extends to the entire team. Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck encourages three-pointers, knowing full well he has the requisite shooters to make them. The Beavers’ 9.2 three-point field goals per game is tied for seventh-most in the country, and their three-point field goal percentage (37.8) ranks 18th.
They are starters on an Oregon State team considered to be one of the youngest in the nation. Nine of the 11 players on the ’13-14 roster are underclassmen (there is just one senior), including four in the starting rotation. A glance at the game notes reveals that freshmen and sophomores are responsible for 81 percent of the team’s scoring and 90 percent of its rebounds.
That’s nothing new Rueck, who won the 2009 Division III national championship at George Fox University despite returning no starters from the previous season and bringing in 10 freshmen. (An OSU grad, he took his dream job in Corvallis ahead of the 2010-11 season.)
With so much youth, the Beavers continue to field an inevitable question: Do they have an eye peeled toward next season, when they’ll be older and have that added bit of experience to not just weather—but win—in these types of stretches?
Tempting as that may be, it’s not the mentality that Rueck has implemented in his four years. His staff works painstakingly on the recruiting trail to identify a certain blend of character alongside talent. He wants players that work well within a team, and can contribute right away. Wiese, for example, averages 31.8 minutes per game, tops on the team.
When you’re on the court that often, Rueck explains, you’re expected to lead. For a freshman point guard, the task takes on even greater importance. So Wiese chats teammates up during games. Then, her head always on a swivel, she whips one-handed passes for easy baskets. She always seems to have a pulse on where the faintest slivers of space can be found, and she’s executing to the tune of 4.2 assists per game, sixth in the Pac-12 and first among freshmen.
Lest we forget, both can do much more than shoot. Wiese leads the Beavers with 26 steals. Weisner rips down rebounds and continues to showcase an improving passing ability off the bounce. Her 42 assists ranks second on OSU behind Wiese, and she adds 5.6 rebounds, of which 36 percent have come on the offensive end.
They spoke after just going through a grinder. The Stanford game, an 89-67 loss, marked the end of a grueling eight-day stretch that closed the Beavers’ non-conference schedule and started up conference play. Sandwiched between tilts against perennial national championship chasers Notre Dame (currently ranked second) and Stanford (fourth) was a match up at then 21st-ranked Cal, which cracked the Final Four last season.
But that three-game stretch (you can also throw in a hard-fought loss against No. 16 Penn State at the Junkanoo Jam in November) was a perfect example of why Wiese and Weisner picked Oregon State in the first place. They wanted to be on the team that turned things around in Corvallis. They want to establish a perennial contender. “When I came on my recruiting trip, I saw the vision the coaches had,” says Wiese. “They wanted to beat the Stanfords, the Cals, the Notre Dames. We believe we can do that.”
In a Maples Pavilions corridor, as carts shuttle past and workers sift by, they trade banter and express expectations. It’s burgeoning cohesiveness, the mark of a team coming together, of confidence that continues to grow. You get better by playing the best; every elite team must first learn how to close out big games.
Next year is great and all, but Wiese and Weisner aren’t waiting on anybody; like their teammates, they want to win now. So, as the season rounds its final bends and tacks hard toward March, a freshman from Arizona and a sophomore from Washington will continue their Swish-Sistered convergence in Oregon, and try to push this team toward a post-season berth.
When asked about her start in the sport, Wiese quips that she was raised in a gym. Weisner’s own beginnings follow a similar storyline. For these two, it was always going to be basketball.
Troy Wiese is a long-time coach who loves running camps and clinics. Wiese remembers heading to his practices every day after school in Phoenix. When she was younger, she’d run around the gym and play with her brother, Christian. Eventually, she began hoisting jumpers off to the side.
That quickly morphed into endless hours spent playing on a neighbor’s court with Christian and her cousin, Brock, who went on to feature for Baker College (KS) from 2008-10. Brock would mystify her with a dizzying blend of streetball moves, going behind his back and through his legs like a backbeat. She never could quite catch up with the rhythm, but even then, she knew she wanted to emulate that wizardry.
When Troy ran camps during the spring and summer, Wiese played up. “When I was in second grade, I was with the seventh graders through high schoolers. I was just always playing against older competition. Even when I started playing club ball, we always played in the 17U bracket—even when we were in eighth grade,” Wiese says.
By the time she’d reached Pinnacle High, where Troy was her coach for four years, she was ready to take the state by storm. Wiese racked up awards and displayed dynamism and savvy that belied her years. She gained renown as one of the country’s best shooters, but says her fondest memory was of an assist to a teammate for a game-winning lay-up at a holiday tournament. For a point guard who lists Steve Nash as her idol, that selflessness rings true.
This past winter break, she went home and played Brock once more in the driveway. You can imagine the smile that broke onto her face when she dribbled the ball between his legs and finished with a lay-up.
Weisner is the youngest of seven children (including two adopted brothers, who are similar in age to her), with a father, Darcy, who has coached high school basketball since the mid-1980s. “It was just something I was always around,” Weisner says of the game, noting that she would attend her dad’s practices and shoot at the side hoop. When practice ended, Darcy would work with her on her game.
She worshipped her oldest brother, Brett, a 6-5 forward who played at Western Washington University after transferring from Eastern Washington. The Weisners had a halfcourt built in their backyard, and Jamie would frequently test her mettle in games against her siblings.
Playing against those brothers—Brett is 11 years her elder—helped create a singular skill set and an all-out approach steeped in fearlessness. “They never went easy on me, just because I was a little girl,” Weisner says. “I think it made me tough.”
Against Cal, Weisner posted 21 points and 11 rebounds, bringing her to eight double-doubles for her career. The statistical feats were perhaps overshadowed by the number of times she went crashing to the floor in full-fledged pursuit of loose balls. “She doesn’t hide her heart and desire,” Rueck says. “That’s who she is every day, and that’s why she’s the player she is. She leads through example, and she pulls her team along.” In a video for Oregon State’s official site, Wiese jokes that if she were stranded on a desert island, she’d want Jamie there “so I could ride on her back as she swam us to salvation, because she has enough energy to save the world.”
The two first met on Wiese’s official recruiting trip to Corvallis in September 2012. Weisner, then a freshman, was her host. She is a self-professed gym rat—when she’s not hoisting jumpers, she’ll set up cones and work on defensive drills—but the Oregon State staff had informed her that in Wiese, she might soon have a companion on her frequent trips. Weisner took that with a grain of salt, yet sure enough, when she headed out onto the court this fall, there was Wiese, ready to go.
They were cordial then, teammates with a shared hunger focused on an upcoming season. But Rueck has a tradition where the team heads to the Oregon coast for a weekend retreat. This year, it came two weeks into fall practice. “You work so hard against each other, and sometimes you get so caught up in basketball,” Wiese says. “The retreat helps us to see the obstacles we’ve been through and appreciate our friendship more on and off the court. It really brought us together, and it creates a bond.”
Then, when the Beavers headed to the Junkanoo Jam in Freeport, Bahamas over Thanksgiving, Weisner and Wiese were paired as roommates. The staff switches up room assignments for every trip, but this proved a particularly fortuitous occasion. Wiese and Weisner had a week to get to know each other on the road.
Both had been high-profile national recruits with their pick of the perennial powers; both had felt a magnetic pull toward Oregon State. They’d heard stories about the perils of the recruiting trail from teammates and experienced the grind first-hand. Coaches would promise one thing, only for a player to reach campus and discover an entirely different world.
When players were asked, at one point in the retreat, to recount an obstacle they’d overcome, Wiese didn’t blink. In high school and on the club circuit, she’d dealt with exacting coaches, and struggled to deal with them. “I’d never experienced anything like that before, and it was really tough, because I was a little naïve. They put me through a lot of adversity. But that made me stronger,” she says.
When it came time to pick a school, Wiese knew exactly what she wanted in a coaching staff. “I was unsure of where I wanted to play in college, but when I came on my recruiting visit, I saw that the coaches truly care about us as people. That’s what they’re about. It just felt right.”
Weisner had begun high school at Walla Walla, in the eponymous town in southeastern Washington, nestled along the Oregon border. She was a three-sport athlete, and that prowess forged her identity and formed her friendships. She felt at home. Then, after her sophomore year, Darcy was offered a job as the Clarkston School District Superintendent.
The move came about in a blur, and Weisner couldn’t help but feel a distinct sense of loss, of uprooting. She moved about 100 miles east, and had to start from scratch at Clarkston High. “The first time I went to the school was the day I moved there,” she says. There were new friends to be found, that poignant fear of the unfamiliar to be overcome. Soon enough, though, Weisner found her groove.
When he’s out scouting, the first thing Rueck notices is a player’s interaction with her teammates. During his first season on the job in Corvallis, he’d heard about Weisner, whom Oregon State assistant Eric Ely had described as a “have to see” kid. This was during Weisner’s junior year at Clarkston.
Rueck’s assessment of the can’t-miss kid? “Everybody loved her. She’s one of those players that has all the qualities a coach wants on his team,” he says. For her part, Weisner didn’t know about Rueck, and hadn’t even considered Oregon State at that point. But she looked him up, and decided to take a visit. In this coaching staff, she found a group committed to more than basketball. She saw the chance to be a part of a reclamation act. In the end, she couldn’t think of going anywhere else. “They believed in me before I had a couple good tournaments,” says Weisner, who enjoyed a meteoric rise up the recruiting rankings the summer before her senior year at Clarkston. “I really appreciated and respected that.”
Both Wiese and Weisner break into laughter as they recount a film session the day before the Stanford game. As players walked into the room, they were peppered with toy basketballs by the coaching staff. “Of course it’s serious, too, but our coaches realize our youth,” Wiese says. “We have time to have fun. They’re not going to use that youth as an excuse, but they’re proud of what we’ve done. They tell us to keep working, keep grinding. They install a positive mindset each day.”
It’s a potent mixture that hints toward an even keel. And it always helps to have two players who can’t stand the thought of losing. “Sydney is a lot like Jaime, in that she gives you everything she’s got every minute,” Rueck says. “It’s just a matter of time for her, and for us, where we’re the ones that are finishing.”
To wit: Wiese is already looking forward to the offseason, when she can get in the gym with Weisner and work on incorporating that fabled pull-up jumper into her own arsenal. For her part, Weisner thinks she can learn a few things from the frosh, too.
They tell of a team three-point shooting drill during practice. At the end of the week, percentages are tracked and…Wiese usually comes out on top. “That gives me confidence in her,” says Weisner. “If I get stopped, I know she’s right behind me, and I know she’s going to make it.”
Together, they have helped usher Oregon State onto the brink of something special. They have used those games against perennial powers as an intensive learning course on what it takes to win at a high level.
The Beavers held late leads against both the Fightin’ Irish and Bears, showcasing supreme potential as well as the trappings of inexperience and youth. Stanford stymied OSU and charged out to a staggering 29-4 lead (Rueck joked afterwards that he was willing to talk about anything but those opening minutes.) The Cardinal’s quick guards forced Wiese into turnovers. They used a mixture of motor and length on defense to hold Weisner without a field goal in the first half.
But the Beavers settled down, and both Wiese and Weisner responded strongly. They’d played tough competition their whole lives; it didn’t faze them now. Wiese tightened up her handle and scored 12 of her 15 points in the second period—all on three-pointers—while Weisner showcased one of her trademark surges, hitting three three-pointers in the span of three minutes. She finished with 13 points.
If one were to break those three games into twelve 10-minute quarters, Rueck says, the Beavers played 11 very good ones.
Their work didn’t go unnoticed. “(Oregon State) is an NCAA tournament team, and I think they’ll continue to show that,” Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb said after the Bears’ win in Berkeley. When asked about the Beavers’ postseason potential, Stanford coach Tara Vanderveer demurred, but she did predict that Wiese would crack the Pac-12 All-Freshman team, just as Weisner did in ’12-13.
They’ve stared down the stiffest competition, and come away with a checklist. “Playing this three-game stretch exposed our weaknesses, and it showed us what we need to work on. But I think it’s going to help us. From here on out, we know what it takes. We’ll fine-tune those little details, and we’ll be good,” Weisner said after Stanford. Wiese agreed. “There’s no excuses now,” she says.
Five days later, Oregon State nabbed a thrilling 88-80 win at in-state foe Oregon. The following Monday, they beat the Ducks in the return leg of the Civil War, as the heated rivalry is known. The Beavers’ record now stands at 10-6, 2-2 Pac-12.
Wiese was sensational in the first game against the Ducks, pouring in a career-high 24 points on the strength of 7-14 shooting from three. (She also had 9 assists, including a sublime 30-foot one-handed rocket that led to a key layup, and 7 rebounds.) For her efforts, she was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. Though she struggled in the second game of the set, finishing with 8 points and hitting just 3-13 from the field (2-12 from three), she added 7 assists. And of course, there was Weisner with 17 points and 7 rebounds to help lead the way in an 84-70 win at Gill Coliseum. The Beavers have now won seven straight over the Ducks.
Watching the Beavers, you’re reminded forcibly of an arduous climb. Legs churning, lungs gasping for breath, it can at times feel endless. But once the peak is crested, the pain seems to fade away. A downhill surge, flight’s earth-bound cousin, awaits. Is there ever a more rewarding juncture than the moment just before the plunge?
The pieces are there. Backcourt dynamism is met by burgeoning frontcourt presences Ruth Hamblin (the 6-6 post has 32 blocks over the past five games, and had a triple-double in the second game against Oregon), Deven Hunter and Samantha Seigner, all sophomores. Ali Gibson, a junior, adds firepower from the perimeter. Frosh Gabby Hanson is emerging as a lock-down perimeter defender and a versatile factor on offense. She had 19 points at home against the Ducks.
They are led by two of the most thrilling prospects in women’s college basketball, whose audience continues to grow. As they spoke to SLAM in that Maples corridor, Stanford senior All-American—and national player of the year candidate—Chiney Ogwumike happened to pass by.
“Nice game, y’all!” Ogwumike said as she stepped around the interview. “Swish sisters, what!”
Without missing a beat, Wiese replied, “It must be trending.”
Maybe it’s more fun than t-shirts.