Eric Wise to Leave UCI

Eric Wise (right) will not be continuing his basketball career at UCI next year, leaving the team without any seniors for the 2011-2012 season. (Sophia Chang/File Photo)

Star junior forward Eric Wise has decided to leave the UC Irvine men’s basketball team, opting to transfer for his last season of eligibility at a yet-to-be-determined Division I university.

“I just decided it was best for me to move on,” Wise said. “It was nothing [about Irvine or the coaches], just my personal decision.”

Because of NCAA rules, Wise will sit out all of next season before playing for his new team. However, Wise asserts that he does not mind sitting out, and dismisses any notion of playing professionally just yet. He will take away good friendships and fond memories from his time at UCI.

“I met a lot of people at UCI that I will talk to for the rest of my life … a lot of memories I’ll remember,” Wise said. “I still talk to my coaches from time to time, and still hang out with my teammates everyday.”

Head Coach Russell Turner admitted to being surprised and being disappointed that the 6-foot-6-inch, 240-pound Wise would not be finishing his career at UCI.

“The fact that Eric was not happy enough to continue bothers me, and I want to make sure that we are fielding a program that guys are proud to be a part of,” Turner said. “I’m not mad at Eric, I want to be supportive of him in what he does next.”

Wise’s resume with the ’Eaters has been impressive. As a sophomore, he was the first UCI player in 37 years to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists. He was named to the All-Big West second team in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, starting 62 of 63 games in those two seasons. While an injury-plagued campaign forced Wise to miss 12 games during the 2010-2011 season, he still averaged 16.3 points per game and a team high 8.1 rebounds. Wise garnered Big West Conference Player of the Week awards for his back-to-back double-doubles in two key double overtime wins, and garnered conference honorable mention accolades as a junior. He would have been the leading returning point scorer and rebounder for next year’s squad.

“I am disappointed because this does affect our outlook for next year, but that’s a short term view, and we have to remain focused on a long term view,” Turner said. “I was surprised and obviously disappointed in the way Eric was feeling, but transfers are happening more and more in college basketball. What I want to do is focus on the guys who remain in the program and want to be here.”

Turner also confirmed that redshirt junior guard Derrick Strings and junior walk-on Jonas Lalehzadeh will not return to next year’s team as well. The 6-foot-2-inch Strings is a fourth-year student and will be graduating this spring with a degree in sociology. He plans on playing his last year of eligibility at another Division I school while pursuing graduate school. Because he is scheduled to leave UCI with a degree, Strings will be able to play next season without sitting out a year, so long as the next institution he attends offers a graduate program that UCI does not.

“UCI has done a lot for me, but Coach Turner and I came to a mutual agreement for my future [and] decision to play elsewhere,” Strings said.

The offense-oriented shooting guard showed flashes of potential during his time at UCI, averaging 4.9 points in 25 games and one start this season.

Lalehzadeh was hampered by a knee injury for much of the season. The University High School grad’s best season came last year when he started five of the 13 games he played in. The energetic reserve earned his degree in business economics last year and is currently working on his master’s in criminology, law and society.

With the three juniors not coming back next season, the Anteaters will have no seniors on the 2011-2012 roster. There are now potentially six scholarships available for next season, with only two filled at the time of print.

“That’s an unusual situation to be in to have no seniors in that class,” Turner said. “We have some flexibility in what we can do moving forward, and will need to make some decisions. We’re looking for guys that can help us long term, and not just on the immediate impact based on Eric’s departure.”