BROOKFIELD — Dan Wandrey’s immediate present — and future plans — were foggy, at best.
As a young husband and father, Wandrey dropped out of UW-Whitewater in the mid-1980s.
He worked a variety of jobs that fit with his suddenly frenetic home life. Through it all, the thought of coaching was never really part of Wandrey’s very muddled blueprint.
“I started out as an accounting major, then suddenly I was married and a Dad,” he said. “I never thought about coaching.”
Good thing for Brookfield Central his thought process changed.
On Friday night, after the Lancers defeated Menomonee Falls, 63-44, the BC faithful gathered to celebrate Wandrey’s 400th career win. The student section held up ‘400 wins’ signs. The players posed for pictures. And Wandrey smiled and took it all in.
“I know it’s just a number,” Wandrey said. “But it’s pretty special.”
Wandrey’s time at BC has been awfully special.
Wandrey spent 16 years coaching the Lancers’ girls, where he compiled a 226-142 record, won five Greater Metro Conference titles and led his team to the WIAA Division 1 state tournament twice.
Wandrey took over the Lancers’ boys program in 2014 where he’s posted a 17448 mark — a sensational .783 winning percentage. Wandrey led the Lancers to three of the past five state tournaments, the only state title in school history in 2019, and a runner-up finish at state last season.
All totaled, Wandrey’s teams at BC are 400-190 (.678) and have been to five state tournaments.
“He’s incredibly smart and his IQ is off the charts,” said Lancers junior forward Jack Daugherty, who led BC with 17 points Friday. “He’s going to get his point across every time, but he’s right most of the time, so it’s only fair.”
Wandrey can border on maniacal on the sidelines, stomping his feet and screaming at officials.
But those that view Wandrey through that narrow lens are only reading the cover, not the entire book. Wandrey’s work ethic is second- to-none, he can match X’s and O’s with anyone and his photographic memory for anything basketball related is mind-blowing.
“Look at what he’s done,” Sussex Hamilton boys coach Andy Cerroni said of Wandrey. “He’s won and he’s won when people say he isn't going to win. I tip my hat to him. He’s one of best in Wisconsin.”
Dan Carey, who coaches the boys at Milwaukee Pius, first met Wandrey when he was the girls’ coach at Sussex Hamilton in the late 2000s. The two had several memorable battles, became close, and Carey credits Wandrey for helping him become the coach he is today.
“The first time I met Dan I told him your program is what I’m hoping we can become,” Carey said. “They were so tough and competitive and fundamentally sound. They were the template. We wanted to get to where they were.
“He cares so much about the game and so much about his players and his teams are so hard to play against. They’re always prepared, so tough and take right after their head coach. He is a nononsense, disciplined, detail oriented and prepared.”
Interestingly, Wandrey never prepared for a life of coaching like so many do.
Wandrey was a solid player at Milwaukee Pius through his junior season, but didn’t play as a senior. College, marriage and fatherhood came quickly and Wandrey was searching for something he was passionate about.
In the late 1980s, Wandrey returned to his grade school — St. Margaret Mary — and inquired about coaching.
“I was a pretty good player and kind of thought I was the (expletive),” Wandrey said. “I figured they’d give me the best team or the eighth grade team.”
Not quite. Wandrey was given the sixth grade girls ‘B’ team.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” Wandrey said. “But I had a blast. I was hooked.”
Wandrey stayed at St. Margaret Mary for five years, then worked under legendary girls coach Joel Claassen at Pius for three years. Wandrey went back to college in the mid-1990s at Concordia, but continued coaching — spending a year as the freshman coach at Waukesha North and a year as the JV coach at Arrowhead.
Wandrey was hired as a business teacher at BC in the fall of 1998, but the girls’ basketball staff was full. Or so everyone thought.
During the first week of school, Lancers head coach Mary Maberry stepped down. Wandrey beat out a handful of candidates for the job, and few could have envisioned 25 years of prosperity would follow.
“He’s a great coach, obviously,” sophomore guard Anthony Rise said. “He’s a great teacher. He’s always helpful and he’s made a lot of us better basketball players.”
Wandrey inherited a girls program that played second fiddle in its own town to Brookfield East. But he established a culture and expectation level that quickly led to winning seasons.
“That first year with those girls, we had five wins,” Wandrey said. “But I think of them totally giving of themselves to what we asked. That’s what started everything.”
That, and a passion from the head coach that’s tough to match.
Wandrey is the definition of a grinder. He watches more film than any Hollywood critic. He studies other coaches and teams until he falls asleep at his laptop. And his teams are among the most prepared in the state.
He’s also helped build incredibly strong youth programs at BC. While many coaches pay little attention to the lower levels, Wandrey spends many weekends watching youth games and knows exactly what’s happening with every team in his program.
“He does it the right way,” Cerroni said.
By 2005, Wandrey’s Lancers were GMC champs. And three years later, they reached the state tournament for just the second time in school history.
“His teams would run through a wall for him,” Carey said. “Going against him made me better. Learning what it’s like to coach at that level, a high level, I knew I had to bring my ‘A’ game to have any chance of winning.”
*** In the spring of 2014, longtime Central boys coach Mark Adams retired, and then-Lancers’ athletic director Todd Sobrilsky immediately approached Wandrey about the opening.
Wandrey hadn’t given much thought to changing jobs. But when he considered the possibilities, he made the switch.
“I don’t want to say we accomplished everything we possibly could have with the girls,” Wandrey said. “But when it comes to the girls, Central is a soccer school and a volleyball school first.
“With the boys, Central has always been a basketball school. So that part was exciting.”
Wandrey’s teams have taken the excitement to a new level.
Wandrey’s 2017 squad won the GMC title and became the first BC team to reach the state tournament in nine years. Two years later, the Lancers caught fire late in the season, defeated Sussex Hamilton in a memorable sectional final and went on to win the first state title in school history.
Wandrey’s 2020 team was 24-1 and reached the sectional finals. Central and Hamilton — the top two teams in the state — were set to square off in a sectional final that many believed would have determined the eventual state champion.
Instead, the season was stopped due to COVID-19.
“It sure leaves an empty feeling,” Wandrey said. “In our world and lives of sports, there’s a finality to everything you do. There was never any finality that year.”
Wandrey’s 2022 Lancers nearly brought home another gold ball, upsetting Menomonee Falls in the state semifinals before falling in the state title game to Neenah. And this year’s Central team is in the midst of another terrific season, improving to 13-2 after defeating Menomonee Falls Friday.
Central raced to leads of 11-3, 26-9 and held a 32-13 advantage at the break against the Phoenix. The Lancers cleared the bench early, held off a late Falls rally and cruised home.
In addition to Daugherty’s 17 points, Rise had 14 points and junior forward Charlie Geske added 10 points and nine rebounds.
Moments after the game ended, the festivities began — something Wandrey could have never envisioned three decades ago.
“As a kid, I never saw this in my future,” Wandrey said. “But this is pretty special. To win 400 games, all in one place and do it with two teams means a lot.”