Basketball: A conversation with newcomer Eric Wise

In preparation for its Aug. 12 trip to Brazil, USC will hold 10 official practices beginning later this month in a scheduling quirk allowed by the NCAA.

All of the incoming freshmen will be able to get on the court with their new teammates for those sessions, but new transfers Ari Stewart (Wake Forest) and Eric Wise (UC Irvine) will be forced to sit on the sidelines and watch because of NCAA transfer regulations.

Both players are playing in local leagues during the summer, though -- Stewart at the Sayno Classic at LA Trade Technical College, with many of his teammates, and Wise at the Drew League in South Central.

We caught up with Wise last week after he spent much of a game guarding the Warriors' Dorell Wright. Here's the text of the conversation, complete with Wise's hour-by-hour recounting of the day he signed with the Trojans and his opinions on a couple USC coaches.

PM: Your situation’s kind of unique to most transfers. You’re moving between schools less than an hour away and jumping up a level from UC Irvine to USC. Was this a case of attempting to move up in the world for your final year in college?

EW: Yeah, pretty much. I didn’t have anything against UCI. I just thought it’d be best for me, in the long run, to go to another school, and that happened to be at USC.

PM: You contemplated transferring a year ago, right? After your sophomore year at UCI. What made you decide to stay?

EW: Yeah, that’s right. I was thinking about it last year but then ended up staying for my junior year. I was real cool with my teammates – they were like my brothers – and I wanted to try to win with them. I wanted to try to win the Big West tourney.

PM: How did the season go?

EW: We didn’t end up having a good season. We had some losses that we should have won. We had a couple memorable wins, though. We beat Long Beach [State] on Homecoming.

PM: And you played USC, right? At the Galen Center in November?

EW: Yeah, we did play them, early in the year. That was one of the games I got hurt in. I missed a couple games because of that.

PM: So your recruitment, as I understand it, was a bit abnormal this May. You told your coach, Russell Turner, in April you wanted to transfer away from Irvine but then stayed pretty quiet on it until late May when, all the sudden, you had signed your scholarship papers with USC and were going to be a Trojan. Take me through that.

EW: It all happened in like, a day. I don’t really know -- I think it was the last day of the period they could talk to somebody. I had to give them my release so they could talk to me, so I remember running around that day. And it happened to be the day of the big compliance meeting in Arizona so all the compliance people were gone, from both schools, so I remember I was running around all day trying to get it cleared and get it faxed. I ended up driving up there from Riverside around 5 o’clock on a Friday.

PM: About Riverside -- you went to high school with Kawhi Leonard, a 2011 first-rounder of the San Antonio Spurs. Is his ascent from not being seriously recruited by any big schools, at first at least, to the Sweet 16 and nearly the lottery an inspirational story for you as a former teammate?

EW: Mmhmm, exactly. I remember nobody – none of the big schools were recruiting him, but he actually wanted to go to USC out of high school. But they weren’t interested in him. And so he happened to go to San Diego State and then ended up working out for him. We all knew he could play -- I don’t know why everybody else couldn’t see it.

PM: What about you? Who else recruited you out of high school?

EW: Cal Poly SLO, Montana State offered me my junior year but they took it away my senior year, Boston University. A couple of other schools did but I lost contact with them; the only ones I stayed talking to were Irvine and SLO.

PM: If you had to guess, now that you’re at a Division I program, what would you say is the reason you couldn’t attract big-college interest out of high school?

EW: I think it was the size. They didn’t think I was athletic enough. They didn’t think I’d be able to play down low at the Division-I level.

PM: And what about USC? Do you get the idea that they pay more attention to basketball skill, as opposed to size? Their top two guards (Maurice Jones and Jio Fontan) are listed at 5-7 and 6-foot. Aaron Fuller’s no taller than 6-6 and a power forward.

EW: Yeah, they do. It just doesn’t matter to them as much. You see, Maurice, when we played them in November, he was the one that did the most damage against us, so I could tell they didn’t care how tall he was or anything. He’s like 5-6 or 5-7. If you can play, you can play for them.

PM: Two of those undersized players transferred in to USC over the last couple of years. Have you talked to them about the process at all? It’s not generally a happy time, to be sitting out a full year and all.

EW: Yeah, that’s what they said. They said it’s kinda hard but it can be beneficial if you work out and use the time to your advantage. Aaron said he lost 15 pounds and put on a lot on a muscle.

PM: You and Aaron are sort of similar players, it seems like. Both undersized forwards, both pretty productive at other schools…How would you compare your two games?

EW: We both are kinda undersized but can shoot the jumper and go from the inside out. Right now he’s a lot stronger than me, so hopefully by the time my year comes I can get in the same shape he’s in.

PM: Speaking of shape, the stylings of USC’s strength and conditioning coach, Shaun Brown, have gotten a lot of publicity from the guys on the team on Twitter. They’re always saying this and that about Shaun and how he’s working them out way harder than they’re used to. Are you ready for that?

EW: It’s gonna be hard, but it’s gonna be worth it. He’s really good. He worked in the NBA for a couple years, and he knows a lot.

PM: About the NBA, that’s one of the things recruits cite as the appeal of USC’s head coach, Kevin O’Neill. He’s been a head coach in the league, he’s been an assistant. Now, as a college basketball coach, he knows how to prepare you guys for the league. Were you interested in that?

EW: Yeah, exactly. He knows how to get there and he knows what it takes. You have to listen to him. He’s been where everybody wants to be.