The Big Men Are Shaping Up
When it comes to the Anteater offense, Eric Wise can do it all. In years past, this has resulted in opposing defenses double-teaming and collapsing on Wise, without a consistent second post player to help out, especially when the junior forward had to leave the floor. This year, with the help of new Head Coach Russell Turner, a former post player himself, the Anteater big men look to step it up as a collective unit.
The most noticeable change will be Turner’s new up-tempo offense. The quicker pace will lead to more fast breaks and more three-pointers, but the offense will still rely on its post players.
Wise, a two-time All-Big West second-team honoree, has been named to the Big West Preseason All-Conference team, and will undeniably still be the star of the Anteaters. UCI’s version of Charles Barkley became the second player in school history to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists last year, and the first to do it in 37 years. At 6 feet 6 inches and 240 pounds, Wise boasts a smart all-around game, possessing a gentle touch on little floaters, the ability to knock down three-pointers and a watchful eye for throwing up alley-oops to thrill the Bren Events Center faithful. Predominantly playing the power forward spot his first two years at UCI, Wise may look to expand his game to the small forward position as well.
“[Over the offseason] I tried to get in better shape, eat better … work on my jump shot,” Wise said. “We’ve been running a lot more during practice, [and having] longer practices than last year.”
On the defensive side of the ball, junior forward/center Adam Folker was one of the team’s best rebounders. He also did not shy away from a rugged defensive style of play.
“I’ll catch the ball off the block a bit more this year, facing up, rather than just backing guys down like last year,” Folker said. “Our new offense is more suited for big men to take advantage of mismatches off the dribble … we’ll get the ball in transition more. [It will be] a lot more exciting, going out on the fast break more, which suits our team, so we’re all excited about that.”
In terms of the newcomers, Maxime Chupin has the potential to make a substantial impact at center. From Jallais, France, the 6-foot-9 big man also shot 45 percent from three-point land last year. However, his NCAA eligibility is still pending.
“The paperwork was sent [Friday] so now we just have to wait and hope that everything will be ok … There is no reason [to think that it won’t work out,” Chupin said. “I hope I will be able to play the first game.”
If eligible, Chupin could gain immediate playing time. He possesses a polished European game, with experience on the French U18 National Team.
Also returning are seniors Pavol Losonsky and Peter Simek. The two Slovakian natives had flashes of brilliance during their first year at UCI, and should be able to contribute more with a year of Division I basketball under their belts.
It will be interesting to see the impact that Turner has on his first group of post players. With a resume that includes working with a certain Tim Duncan during his college years, it is hard not to be excited.
“[Turner] works with us a lot,” Folker said. “He was a good player himself, so he knows a lot about our position specifically. He knows the entire game very well, so he breaks guys down individually, helps them out, and then puts us all together as a team.”