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    Sunday, March 03, 2024

    New London great Tyson Wheeler inducted into URI’s Ring of Honor on a special night

    Former New London High School great Tyson Wheeler, right, answers questions prior to Wednesday night’s men’s basketball game between URI and Brown, during which Wheeler was inducted into URI’s Ring of Honor along with former teammates Antonio Reynolds Dean, left, and Cuttino Mobley. Wheeler is an assistant coach at Brown, which defeated URI, his alma mater, 67-64. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    From left, former URI greats Antonio Reynolds Dean, Cuttino Mobley and New London’s Tyson Wheeler were inducted into the Rams’ Ring of Honor on Wednesday night at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    Kingston, R.I. — Tyson Wheeler stood mid-court at the Ryan Center and watched a video tribute about his Rhode Island basketball career on Wednesday night.

    The fact that Wheeler shared it with his basketball brothers — Cuttino Mobley and Antonio Reynolds Dean — and former URI roommates meant the world to him.

    All three former Rams greats were inducted into the URI basketball program’s Ring of Honor during a halftime ceremony at the game against Brown, where Wheeler is in his second season as an assistant coach.

    “Just going in with these guys is something very special,” said Wheeler, a former New London High School standout. “Being back here to celebrate together at the same time is beautiful. These were my roommates over in graduate village. … I love these guys and they know that. And they love me as well.”

    Before the game, the trio of greats talked about their illustrious careers that included a magical run to the 1998 NCAA tournament Elite Eight.

    They forged a strong bond and shared a fierce competitive heart, a razor-sharp edge and dedicated work ethic.

    “We all felt we were overlooked,” Wheeler said. “We thought we played well when we were in high school to get high major looks and we didn’t get that chance. So we went to a place where we knew our head coach would give us a chance to show our skills.

    “That edge right there made a difference.”

    When his URI playing days ended in 1998, Wheeler walked away as the program’s all-time leader in steals, 3-point shots and assists — a record he still holds with 712. He’s also the school’s second-leading scorer with 1,918 points.

    Wheeler, who lives in Norwich, exceeded even his own expectations.

    “We wanted to leave a legacy coming into Rhode Island,” Wheeler said. “It wasn’t a well-known school as far as basketball, like a powerhouse. Just leaving a legacy and having our names in the rafters means the world to us and to our families.

    “My son (Tyson), who’s 18 now, thinks he can still beat me one-on-one. I can show him this stuff and he can be here and share it with the family and these guys. It’s a tremendous accomplishment for all of us. We all didn’t believe we could do this. And it wasn’t just us three. We had a team, coaches, staff that were helping us out to become the best we could be.”

    Wheeler has returned to his alma mater a number of times as an opposing coach — first an assistant at Fairfield, then UMass and now Brown.

    He cherishes every visit to the URI campus.

    “I love going back to where I played college basketball,” Wheeler said. “It’s where I made my name and helped build the program, so it’s always special going back. They’re very welcoming to me and my family when I come.”

    Wednesday night became even more special for Wheeler when Brown earned a hard-fought 67-64 win over the Rams.

    The Brown players showed their appreciation for Wheeler after the game.

    “It was an awesome scene with him and our players in the locker room,” Brown coach Mike Martin said. “He’s just an amazing coach, obviously one of the best players that’s ever worn the jersey here. And as good of a coach and player he is and was, he’s a better person.

    “He makes us all smile. You love having a guy like him around. And our program is so fortunate that he’s with us.”

    Wheeler absolutely loves his job.

    “I’m working with some unbelievable people,” Wheeler said. “It’s a joy to coach these young men because they’re locked in and want to be great. Not just on the basketball side, they want to be great academically. They’re always locked in and they ask questions and they want to learn.

    “The coaching staff that I’m working with, we collaborate a lot. We throw things off each other and we come up with the best plan to try to help our team be successful. I’m enjoying myself. I actually really do love it.”

    Wheeler not only celebrated the Ring of Honor induction with his Brown basketball family and URI basketball brothers, he also had his family — his wife Farrah and sons Tyson and 14-year-old Tevin — on hand.

    He paid tribute to his daughter Tiara, who passed away in an accident in August, by wearing a button with her photo on his coat during the ceremony.

    The basketball court has always been Wheeler’s happy place, first as a player and now coaching a game that he loves. It’s also helped him with the healing process during a difficult period in his family’s life.

    “It helps me keep my mind at ease because when I’m not out on the court, I’m just thinking about my family, thinking about my daughter all day long,” Wheeler said. “It’s gotten a little bit easier, but it’s not any easier. Anything can spark emotion. … So it’s pretty difficult.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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