USC Upstate Women’s Basketball Staff Update

USC Upstate head women’s basketball coach Becky Burke has announced the completion of her staff, tabbing Candyce Wheeler, Drew Landers, and Nicole Ambrose as her assistant coaches.

Wheeler, a former teammate of Burke’s on the 2009 Final Four team at the University of Louisville, comes to Upstate from Bellarmine University where she served as the assistant women’s basketball coach for the past four seasons.

In her first year with the Knights in 2016-17, Wheeler helped guide the team to an NCAA Tournament berth as well as its first back-to-back 20-win season in 12 years. Bellarmine made the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament in all of Wheeler’s four seasons with the program, including an appearance in the title game in 2018-19. Additionally, Wheeler coached five All-GLVC selections.

“Candyce was my teammate, and through that, our bond has remained pretty tight. You’re very close with your teammates throughout your life. Through that, then being peers in the coaching world at different universities for the last few years and seeing each other out recruiting, we’ve kept our relationship,” said Coach Burke. “She’s someone who I looked up to as a player because she’s older than me and was always a role model to freshmen like me. The way she went about her business as a player and the way she goes about her business as a coach is something I wanted our players and my staff to be around. It’s also someone that I want to be around in terms of who she is as a person and how she goes about everything she does.”

Prior to her stint at Bellarmine, Wheeler was an assistant coach at her high school alma mater, DuPont Manual, and helped lead the team to a 7th Region Championship and an appearance in the state tournament. As an assistant coach at Western Kentucky University in 2013-14, she helped the Hilltoppers to a Sun Belt Conference Title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Before that, she returned to U of L as a graduate assistant under head coach Jeff Walz in 2012-13 and helped the Cardinals to the NCAA Tournament Finals for the second time in program history.

As a player at Louisville, Wheeler earned First Team All-Big East nods her senior year in 2008-09. She led the Cardinals to the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament championship game that season where she recorded a double-double against UConn and was named to the Raleigh Regional All-Tournament Team. Her junior year, she earned Second-Team All-Big East honors and was named to the Big East All-Tournament Team.

Wheeler earned her psychology degree from U of L and was selected in the third round of the 2009 WNBA draft by the San Antonio Silver Stars. She went on to play professionally overseas in Luxembourg, Germany, and Puerto Rico. Wheeler married her husband, Gary, in May 2019.

“I’m excited for this opportunity because it’s a new beginning. South Carolina is a lot different than Louisville, Ky., so I think that will be a lot of fun,” Wheeler said. “I think among Coach Burke, Drew, Nicole, and I, we all have the same background of a winning tradition, and we’re definitely excited to bring that culture to USC Upstate.”

Landers, the son of legendary Georgia’s women’s basketball coach Andy Landers, joins the Upstate program from Mercer University where he has been the director of player personnel for women’s basketball since 2018.

There, he was in charge of team operations that included travel, lodging, and meals as well as scouting, planning summer camps, managing the team budget, and devising team practice schedules and itineraries. He also acted as the liaison for compliance.

“My assistant coach from when I was at Louisville knew Drew wanted to get into the coaching side of things, and when she found out I was hired here and looking for staff, she called me and was like, ‘you’re crazy if you don’t hire this guy with his connections, knowledge, and the places he’s been.’ Coach Sue at Mercer raved about him so I did my homework on him. Having that connection through his dad and my coaches at Louisville and talking to him on the phone and seeing what he was about, it was a no-brainer. When you know, you know in life in a lot of situations,” said Coach Burke. “I called him, and he is all the vibes I want on our staff. Between his knowledge and him hanging around his dad at Georgia for 30 years, that in itself is invaluable to me. Being around that type of program and players and in the office is an experience not everyone gets. He’s such good people. His enthusiasm about this university and this job is on the same level as mine, and that’s what I wanted.”

Prior to Mercer, Landers was the director of women’s basketball operations at the University of Mississippi in 2017-18. In addition to the same responsibilities he had at Mercer, Landers also recruited practice players and mentored support staff, student managers, and student-athletes during his time at Ole Miss. In 2016-17, he was the women’s basketball video coordinator at the University of Virginia after interning with Georgia’s men’s and women’s basketball programs in 2014-15 where he assisted with film, scouting reports, and playbooks.

Additionally, Landers has worked with the Southeastern Conference in the past, volunteering at football media days and men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. He received his bachelor’s in business administration from Ole Miss in 2013.

“I am both honored and excited to be joining Coach Burke’s staff and the Upstate athletics family. Coach Burke has proven herself as a winner on every level,” Landers said. “I look forward to working with her, Coach Wheeler, Coach Ambrose and our returning student-athletes in building USC Upstate into a perennial winner. I understand the challenges that we face and am confident that Coach Burke’s vision and leadership will propel us in a most positive direction.”

Ambrose was a student manager for women’s basketball at U of L during Coach Burke’s time there, and she joins the Spartans after spending the last three seasons as an assistant coach at Indiana University Southeast.

During her tenure, she helped coach the Grenadiers to their first-ever River States Conference West Division Championship and an appearance in the River States Conference Tournament Championship. Ambrose compiled a 54-38 record at IU Southeast while coaching two All-RSC First Team selections and two All-RSC Second Team selections.

“I’ve tried to hire Nicole at every place I’ve been so far, but she was really wanting to be loyal to the program she was at the last three years. She is just one of the hardest workers and most consistent people I’ve ever been around. When she puts her mind to something, she’s going to do it and she’s going to do it better than anyone else,” Coach Burke said. “She’s a student of the game, and that’s the reason she wanted to be our manager at Louisville. She wanted to be around the game and learn it because she has known she wanted to be a coach for forever. When I say she knows the game, she studies it and is just a student of this craft. She’s very serious about the task at hand needing to get done and needing to get done well, and that’s what I love about her.”

Before her time at IU Southeast, Ambrose was the head coach at Waggener High School in Louisville, KY during the 2016-17 school year. Prior to that, she spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Louisville Male High School and Assumption High School in Louisville, KY.

In addition to coaching scholastically, Ambrose directed the Louisville Legends Gauntlet travel program from 2016-2018 and sent more than 15 players to the collegiate ranks. In 2017, she founded The Outlet, LLC, a girls basketball exposure company that highlights players from Kentucky and surrounding states. In May 2019, Ambrose and The Outlet partnered with WNBA and University of Louisville stars Angel McCoughtry and Asia Durr to hold the Derby City Duo Skills Camp.

Ambrose was a student-manager and then a graduate assistant for U of L’s women’s basketball team, and during her time there, the Cardinals made two NCAA Sweet 16 appearances and one NCAA National Championship appearance. She graduated from U of L in 2012 with a bachelor’s in sport administration and again in 2014 with a master’s of business administration in entrepreneurship. In 2019, she graduated with her master’s degree in teaching from the University of the Cumberlands.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to be able to build this program so we can compete for championships in the Big South. I’m also excited for the opportunity to work with Coach Burke for the first time. She’s a proven winner at every stop she’s been at, and I’m excited to not only learn from her but to help her put her stamp on this program,” said Ambrose.

All hires by the University of South Carolina Upstate athletic department are subject to an approved background check.

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