Wise makes 'em pay

A word to the wise for future Eric Wise opponents: That smile you prompted with your colorful critique of his physique, just hurt your team.

For when the slightly pear-shaped UC Irvine freshman center, who packs plenty of his 240 pounds within inches of his drawstring — providing both an ample landing pad for a defender’s hand-check and a stern reminder that space in the paint is reserved for those with no reservation about creating their own — shows you his usually innocuous grin on the basketball court, the implications are surely sinister.

“I get fat ass a lot,” said the Anteaters’ malicious, yet merry man-child, who though about the width of a hamburger patty shy of 6-foot-5, is making a serious bid for Big West Conference Freshman of the Year honors. With the ability to bang, pin, spin around and lift deftly accurate floaters over taller foes, as well as beat less-agile practitioners in the paint off the dribble, he leads the team at 13.2 points per game and also averages 5.6 rebounds. “Or biscuit boy, or dough boy. It’s not too creative. My first reaction is to smile. But I usually play better when people say those kinds of things.”

So one might say it’s a knowing smile?

“That’s exactly what it is,” he said.

The expression of Wise’s ample talent has helped UCI (7-13, 4-3 in the Big West Conference) enter tonight’s 7 o’clock conference showdown with visiting Black and Blue rival Long Beach State (10-9, 5-2) as one of a handful of title contenders in the topsy turvy nine-team league.

Those talents, which UCI Coach Pat Douglass said include a brilliant basketball IQ, have also made Douglass and his staff appear considerably smarter than many of their peers, who almost universally doubted the former CIF Southern Section Division I-A and Riverside County player of the year could flourish at the Division I level.

“A lot of schools thought I was too small or whatever,” said Wise, who listed Fordham, South Florida New Hampshire and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as those on a short list that eventually lost out to UCI. “And, at first, I was planning on moving from the post to the wing. I worked out hard all summer trying to prepare for a move to the wing. And when the season started, I was on the wing. But we changed our offense and I’m back in the post. Whatever is best for the team.”

Wise, who averaged 20.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and shot 61% from the field to help King High in Riverside win the Division I-A section crown as a senior center, said some of the skills he honed to be more effective on the perimeter, have helped him bring more to the paint.

He also said his daily off-season workout regimen helped him trim 10 pounds and gain some strength and quickness.

“I was excited [about the expected shift from the post to the perimeter, a move he believes he will need to make should he achieve his dream of playing professionally],” Wise said. “But I’ve been playing the post my whole life, so moving back was pretty easy.”

Wise said he learned most of his inside expertise from his father, Francois Wise, the Long Beach State career leader in rebounds (896), who earned All-American honors as a 49ers senior in 1980. The same year, he was selected in the fourth round of the NBA draft by the Washington Bullets.

“My dad taught me almost everything,” Eric Wise said of Francois, who was 6-6, 240 pounds at Long Beach State. After failing to survive the final cut as a rookie NBA hopeful, the elder Wise became a star in the Philippines. Francois Wise said he averaged 45 points and once scored 78 in a professional game there, before eventually retiring in 1987.

He has spent the last 19 years on patrol for the Los Angeles Police Department.

“We built a court in our backyard and we used to go out there and bang a little bit,” Eric Wise said. “Not so much anymore. But I talk to my dad after every game. And I always know where he and my mom [Bonita] are in the stands at every game.”

Eric Wise’s uncle, Francois’ older brother, is Willie Wise, who was a three-time All-Star in the old American Basketball Assn. After the ABA merged with the NBA, Willie Wise, who helped lead the Utah Stars to the ABA title in 1970-71, played the 1976-77 season with the Denver Nuggets. He spent part of the following season with the Seattle SuperSonics.

Jaha Wilson, one of Eric’s cousins, played at USC and one of Eric’s two older brothers, Cameron Wise, plays at Waldorf College, an NAIA school in Forest City, Iowa.

Bonita Wise, Eric’s older sister, starred in women’s volleyball at the University of Cincinnati, and is currently playing professionally in Spain.

“I think he has some good genes, but it’s also hard work,” Francois Wise said of the reasons for Eric’s success.

“His confidence is unbelievable. No matter who is guarding him, in his mind, he’s the best player on the court. And, a lot of the time, he is.”

Eric Wise said his individual goals include being Freshman of the Year and eventually Player of the Year in the conference. He also wants to lead UCI to the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Wise wears jersey No. 34 in honor of his two favorite players, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, after whom he patterns his game.

“I like physicality,” Wise said. “I’ve always weighed a lot, so [being physical] just came natural, I guess. I’ve got [this body], so I’ve got to use it to my advantage against taller players.”

Wise said he is also not averse to using some trash talk of his own.

“I usually wait until the other guy says something first. I laugh a lot on the court, but I’m very competitive too. And I think I play better when I’m mad.”

Francois Wise is a member of the Long Beach State Athletic Hall of Fame, but is not conflicted about his allegiance tonight.

“Long Beach State is pretty much just letters on a jersey,” Francois Wise said. “I haven’t kept up with that program since I left. And [the 49ers] kind of passed on Eric, too.”

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