Sept. 28, 2009
By Nick Brilowski
One could be forgiven if they made a visit to the Kupe home in suburban Detroit and came away with the impression that they had accidentally stumbled upon the United Nations.
Walk through the doors of the Drs. Joachim and Anne-Marie Kupe residence and you might stumble upon a conversation being held in English, French, German, Luxembourgish or even Kikongo.
"I understand it more than I speak it," says Oliver -- the middle of the family's five children and the lone son--of his parents' native dialect.
"My parents try to keep the languages fresh with us so that we don't lose them," Oliver said. "My mom makes sure that we speak German to her and a little bit of French as well. All of our relatives speak French, so when we go overseas to hang out with our family in Europe, we need to be able to speak the language to get around."
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joachim and Anne-Marie each earned their doctorate degrees from the Technical University Aachen in Aachen, Germany.
A chief engineer for advanced technologies for the Delphi Corporation, Joachim has worked for the company since 1988 and the family lived in Luxembourg for the first seven years of Oliver's life. The Kupes would relocate to the United States, settling in Grand Rapids, Mich., for two years before making the move to their current residence in Clarkston, Mich.
Anne-Marie has been heavily involved in education and is a biology professor at the University of Michigan-Flint as well as Oakland University. Needless to say, focus in the classroom is a high priority in the Kupe household.
"When we started the whole recruiting process my sophomore year of high school, my dad really made sure that whomever was recruiting me was in the top-30 schools education-wise," said Oliver, a sophomore forward on head coach Tim Lenahan's men's soccer team.
"My dad always thought about Ivy League schools, Duke, and Northwestern, of course. He wanted to make sure that education was the number one factor when we decided where it was I wanted to go. Northwestern was a perfect fit. It's in a very good athletic conference and it's a top-notch school."
Early in the recruiting process, Lenahan could see that Kupe would fit in well as a Northwestern student-athlete.
"I looked at him and I saw someone with great athleticism," said Lenahan. "Then I looked down and saw his GPA and his AP scores and I knew that we might have a match. It kind of surprised us that we hadn't noticed him before, especially since he was such an excellent student."
At 6-foot-3, Kupe didn't only star on the soccer field in high school, he excelled on the basketball court as well. Playing under legendary coach Dan Fife, whose sons Dane and Dugan played collegiately at Indiana and Michigan, respectively, Kupe's athleticism often saw him match up against the opposition's top player. A number of those individuals went on to compete at the Division I level in college, including Michigan State's Draymond Green, Boston College's Josh Southern and Dar Tucker of DePaul.
In fact, his combination of skills and his efforts in helping Clarkston High to the state quarterfinals his senior year earned Kupe an opportunity to walk on to the men's basketball program at Michigan State University.
"The offer was tremendous, but I've always imagined myself playing soccer in college," he said. "Michigan State had been one of my favorite schools growing up in terms of sports. It would have been fun, but I really wanted to play a sport instead of being a guy just sitting on the bench."
Despite choosing the pitch over the hardwood, Kupe feels that he's been able to translate some of those basketball skills over to soccer.
"Basketball helped me a lot with my soccer game," he said. "On the soccer field, when I have my back to the goal and have to hold off defenders, I learned that from boxing out for a rebound (in basketball). Some of the lateral movements and the quickness that I have on the field, I learned from basketball which is much faster-paced. Having to play against some very big and athletic people has helped me take advantage of that on the soccer field."
It is a perception that Lenahan has picked up on as one of Kupe's strengths as well.
"I see it in his division with the ball," Lenahan said. "Basketball players are able to slow the game down and see the play as it develops because you constantly have the ball in your hands and there's backdoor cuts. The movement away from the ball is very similar to soccer. A lot of times in soccer, guys aren't able to see the play as it develops. I think Oliver has the ability to find guys in gaps because of that basketball background.
"He has pretty good vision on the field and I think some of that is from playing basketball. I think he's a pretty good defender as a soccer player as a forward. A lot of club coaches at the youth level are against kids playing two sports, but I think it brings a different skill set to the table."
Kupe displayed his play-making ability early on in his freshman season at Northwestern in the preseason exhibition contests while also assisting on the lone goal in the team's season-opening victory over San Francisco. However, hamstring injuries would slow him down and prevent him from contributing to the Wildcats' lineup to the fullest of his potential for the majority of the regular season.
By the beginning of the postseason, though, he found himself back at full strength and would play a huge role in NU's deep NCAA tournament run. Kupe's talent was on display in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten tournament when the Wildcats faced off against Penn State. With Northwestern trailing 1-0 late in regulation, his tremendous individual effort set up Matt Eliason for the tying score as the Wildcats would go on to earn a 2-1 double-overtime win.
It was just a sign of things to come. After NU advanced past Loyola Chicago in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Kupe saved his most dramatic effort for the Wildcats' next match at 12th-seeded Notre Dame. Northwestern again found itself down a goal in the second half on the Fighting Irish's muddy surface before the freshman made a pair of huge plays for his team. He scored his first two collegiate goals in a pressure-packed situation as the 'Cats came away with the 2-1 victory and eventually advanced to the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tourney for the second time in three years.
"Going into Notre Dame, I just thought I have to do something positive for my team," Kupe said. "Getting two goals was tremendous. It was probably the best moment I've had in my sports career. That was a huge boost and has definitely carried over to this year."
With a year of committing full-time to soccer under his belt, Kupe has shined in the early stages of his sophomore season. Through the team's first four matches this year, he assisted on at least one goal in each contest and led the Big Ten with five helpers.
"I'm trying to make an impact every time I touch the ball. Our attack is really well put together with Eli (Matt Eliason), Piero (Bellizzi) and Lucas (Swertloff) and all of our other guys. I'm just trying to either set up a goal or score a goal and get us moving and be dangerous every time I get the ball. I really want to have a positive effect every single time I get on the field. If I get 30 assists and zero goals, or vice versa, that's fine with me. I just want us to win."
No matter what language you say it in, Kupe translates into a rising star at Northwestern.