Army experience helps Nikki Wise mature
Dec 20, 2007
Nikki Wise is blasting this girl she used to know.

She rolls her eyes with disgust when she talks about her work ethic. She says how lazy she was and how she didn’t care about anything. She can’t believe that all this girl used to do was lay around after school and hang out with friends who did the same.

She says how angry this girl was and how she would look for a fight.

At basketball practice she remembers how this girl “loafed around” while the rest of her New Castle High girls basketball teammates went through running drills.

This isn’t any girl she keeps talking about with such disdain.

It’s Nikki Wise, one year ago.

Amanda “Nikki” Wise is a starting forward for New Castle this year, averaging 12 points per game and a shade under 10 rebounds.

She has the natural ability that makes coaches drool: A powerful 5-foot-10 body with a muscular build. Speed and quickness to deflect passes and make steals with her long arms. A desire to play close to the hoop and enough skill to finish with either hand.

She was named Most Valuable Player of the New Castle Tipoff Tournament earlier this year, scoring a career-high 20 points in the championship game against Hopewell.

What happened to the lazy, moody, angry Nikki Wise of last year?

It’s amazing what a little boot camp can do to change your outlook on life.

Sometime this year, while trudging through another ordinary day at home, a lightbulb went on inside Nikki’s head.

She was tired of the dim outlook and didn’t like who she was. She saw two roads — success or failure.

She chose success. She joined the Army Reserves.

“I wasn’t sure if basketball would get me into college, but I want to go to college — that was my motivation for joining,” Wise said, brimming with optimism and hope.

She will begin her once-a-month drills with her unit after Christmas in Coraopolis. Her recruiter will try to work her obligation to the Army around her basketball schedule.

She won’t know what to expect. She just hopes it’s nothing like basic training.

Flashback to June. It’s hot, sticky, muggy.

Now imagine what it’s like for Nikki Wise in June during boot camp in Fort Jackson, S.C. — away from all of her friends on the basketball team and away from her grandmother, Theora Washington, who has raised her since she was 2.

That is where the transformation of Nikki Wise began.

She didn’t speak to anyone for the first few weeks and talked back to a female drill sergeant.

“She had a big mouth,” Wise said.

Same old Nikki.

It’s amazing what an M-16 can do to change your outlook on life.

“When I first shot it, I was so scared, but when I learned, I was like ‘Hey, I can do it,’ ” Wise said. “It gave me confidence.”

She slowly began to talk to and make friends with others in her all-female barracks. She exercised and ran with more of a purpose (she was missing all of the summer with the basketball team).

For the first time in her 18 years, she realized she had potential.

“I learned to keep command of myself and my emotions down there,” she said. “I would say anything that came to mind before, now I think before I talk.”

She returned on Aug. 28, one day before the start of her senior year of high school, on a mission: Get to college and get ready to play basketball.

Nikki Wise is out of her military fatigues and back onto the court.

Teammate Jazelle Dennis, her friend since fourth grade, worked tirelessly with her until her jump shot was back.

She started the year great, playing so well in the Tipoff Tournament and showing that she wasn’t the same old Nikki.

That was until she found out early last week that she was academically ineligible to play against Shaler.

This was the test.

Family problems caused her to be distracted from school work and she moved out of her grandmother’s house and moved in with a friend. School wasn’t her priority.

What she did next is something the old Nikki Wise never would have thought of.

“She came in early to practice and explained everything to me,” New Castle coach Luann Grybowski said. “If she was ineligible last year, she probably just would have skipped practice.”

That’s because Wise never opened up to anyone before, keeping all of her problems within that angry, sullen person she used to know.

“The old Nikki would not have told coach, but I learned to open up to others because I’m more confident now,” Wise said.

During the Shaler game, Wise was allowed to dress, but sat on the bench, somberly watching as her team won by 20 points.

She was mad, again. This time at herself.

She worked extra hard to get eligible again and moved back into her grandmother’s house.

“That is the last time that will ever happen,” Wise said.

Nikki Wise is still ripping apart this girl she used to know.

She remembers when she got scored on at will by All-state forward Jaleesa Sams in practice last year, remembered how she felt unwanted on the team because she came off the bench, and can’t believe how combative she was.

She looked so sad, too.

It all changed during those nine weeks of hell in Fort Jackson — sometime after getting yelled at by the stocky, big-mouth drill sergeant and firing that M-16 until all of the anger and immaturity left her for good.

“The Army changed my perspective on life,” said Wise, who has agreed to give the next six years to the Army in agreement that they pay for her college education — basketball scholarship or not.

Nikki Wise had a choice.

It’s amazing what a little growing up can do to change your outlook on life.
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