The Mass Effect: Evaluating the Loss of Two Big Men – Wise and Chupin

The UC Irvine men’s basketball program recently experienced two crucial separations. Junior forward Eric Wise walked out on the family, metaphorically serving Head Coach Russell Turner with divorce papers.

Losing freshman center Maxime Chupin and UCI stings in a different way; the promising Chupin has not played a single minute in an Anteater uniform in his college career.

The relationship didn’t work out because the NCAA ruled that Chupin does not qualify as an amateur due to his experience in his homeland of France, and therefore cannot play NCAA basketball in America.

Chupin and Wise’s departures may both be critical to the team’s prospects for the 2011-2012 season, but they are on completely different spectrums when it comes to their attitudes upon departure.

A 6-foot-9-inch, 220 pound Frenchman, Chupin ran the floor like a gazelle, nailed shots from beyond the arc and stifled several of his teammates in the defensive post while practicing as an Anteater this year. His departure is heartbreaking.

In the few times that I encountered Max, he was warm and often comical. As I was interviewing senior guard Darren Moore at Crawford Court one day, Chupin walked by and said, “Don’t talk to him, he’s not good,” while making eye-contact with Moore, who burst into laughter.

On another occasion, I shared a crowded Anteater Express bus with Chupin. When the bus was about to take off, Chupin alerted the driver that there was someone waiting by the door that hadn’t made it on: the driver opened the door for the stranger. That’s the only time I’ve seen someone do that. Most of the time, people are too busy staring out into space, avoiding eye contact or listening to their iPods to notice such a thing, but Chupin wouldn’t let it slide.

“I’m excited about Max,” Turner said prior to the season, “because he’s an incredibly bright kid. He sees this opportunity in Irvine as a chance to further his life success on the academic side as well as by playing basketball. I’m really thrilled to have him.”

When word came that Chupin would not be allowed to play next season, Turner spoke volumes of the center’s character and told the New University, “[This is so] disappointing, because it feels like this is just the kind of guy you want representing the NCAA.”

While Chupin is being forced to leave, Wise is doing so under his own will. Wise has decided to transfer to an undisclosed school. For UCI, the loss of Wise isn’t the end of the world. Upon Turner’s arrival at UCI, rumors swirled last spring that Wise would look to transfer, perhaps because he would not fit into Turner’s fast-paced offense. However, Turner talked the 2009-2010 Anteaters’ leading scorer to get on board.

In October, Wise, who shaped up, grimaced as he worked his way up and down the court. It was evidence of his commitment to making the best of his situation on Turner’s team.

Known for drawing comparisons to Charles Barkley’s body type, post presence and stoic expressions, it seemed challenging to get Wise to crack a smile. Just before the season’s start, Wise and senior teammates Moore and Patrick Rembert posed for a photo shoot following a team practice. Wise, who often wore a sleeve that stretched from his biceps to wrist, was missing the accessory across his folded arms as the photographer set up.

“Look at Eric standing there awkwardly,” one of his teammates said hysterically.

“Shut up,” Wise replied as his furrowed eyebrow relaxed and his badass expression gave way to a slight smile.

Turner spoke volumes of Wise’s talent in October.

“For us to be successful, Wise has to be one of the best guys in the conference,” the Anteater coach said. “I’m pleased with the work he is putting in. As his body is changing, his game is improving. We’ve got to stay on that. Eric’s important to us.”

Wise looked sharp with his shot and less winded due to Turner’s offseason conditioning regiment as the season began, scoring 28 points in the exhibition opener against UC San Diego and recording a double-double against No. 13 Illinois. Shortly after, a groin and lower-back injury sidelined Wise, as his flashiness turned from his post moves to his selection of street clothes.

Frustration over inactivity seemed to get the best of Wise. His head began to hang lower and his Tweets often reflected the acronym “smh” (shaking my head) after games. The Anteaters finished 13-19, one game worse that their 14-18 finish the previous season under previous coach Pat Douglass’ watch. Having played and started in all 32 games in the ‘09-’10 season, Wise competed in just 20 of the 32 games in ‘10-’11. Wise did see an improvement from 6.5 to 8.1 rebounds per game in Turner’s first season, however.

A few weeks ago, Wise decided that he would sit out next season in order to transfer to a yet-to-be-determined Division I school. He explained that it was best for him to move on and it had nothing to do with Irvine or the coaches; that it was a personal decision.

On Twitter, Wise told a follower, “imma try nd [sic] get somewhere, where the games on tv so peeps can watch.”

With Moore and Rembert graduated and Chupin heading back to France, Wise leaves behind a program that he practically owned as a sophomore. Turner, a strong-willed coach, may have ruffled Wise’s feathers by taking the spotlight away from him. In creating an atmosphere where running and constant movement was crucial, Wise didn’t seem to fit Turner’s mold, despite his scoring and rebounding output. Nevertheless, Wise walks away from a team that could have used his post presence and natural shooter’s touch in the upcoming season.

Turner explained that it bothered him that Wise was not happy enough to stay and wanted to make sure that he brings players in who are proud to be Anteaters.

For Turner, he has a fresh start at UCI. He will no longer have to incorporate a deliberate, low-post player into an up-tempo offense and he can look to the Anteaters to form a cohesive team without the starters being on different wavelengths.

UCI will surely experience growing pains without Wise in the post, but remember, Wise was absent for a third of this past season and slowed by injury in other games anyway. With available scholarships, Turner is recruiting vigorously to put together a team with free spots that were vacated by Wise, Chupin, Moore, Rembert and transfers Derrick Strings and Jonas Lalehzadeh.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Mulloy, redshirt junior Adam Folker and whichever high school or junior college big men that Turner manages to bring into the Anteater family will be crucial to the team’s performance next season.

Who knows? The Anteaters could improve their record next year despite key losses. As sports fans, we’ve seen crazier instances.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances, one can only wish the best of luck to Wise and Chupin, two exceptionally talented young men, in their future endeavors.