College players shed pounds to hone body of work
AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State’s Georges Niang was already one of the nation’s top players.
Imagine what Niang can do now that he’s in shape.
His broken foot in last season’s NCAA tournament provided the impetus to fix perhaps the only thing keeping him from becoming an All-American: his fitness.
Niang averaged 16.7 points and 4.5 rebounds last season despite being in less than ideal shape. So Niang set about reshaping his body, and he’ll head into the season 25 pounds lighter.
“He’s the same old Georges. He just a little bit more explosive. He’s got a little bit more stamina,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Niang isn’t the only notable college basketball player slimmer than ever in 2014-15.
North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks has shed about 50 pounds since arriving on campus as a freshman. N.C State’s forward Beejay Anya is roughly 60 pounds lighter in his second season.
Tennessee forward Dominic Woodson has dropped nearly 25 pounds in the offseason in an effort to adjust to new coach Donnie Tyndall’s up-tempo system. Virginia swingman Justin Anderson has lost close to 15 pounds as he looks for an expanded role this season.
Perhaps the most noticeably different player when college basketball begins next week will be Niang.
Niang, a 6-foot-7 forward, made himself a star with an array of spin moves and crafty bank shots. He’s also an excellent passer — a major plus in coach Fred Hoiberg’s space-oriented attack — and has a knack for hitting more 3s than most power forwards would even shoot.
Niang’s talents have made him invaluable to the 14th-ranked Cyclones, especially in late-game situations. But Niang noticed he’d get tired as the game went on, and that led to mental mistakes and turnovers in rucial moments.
Niang said Wednesday he’s already noticed a major difference in preseason practice.
“By this time last year I felt like was a little worn out,” Niang said. “I feel rejuvenated and I feel a lot healthier. I took a step in the right direction by helping myself out.”
The 6-9 Meeks showed up in Chapel Hill just more than a year ago at 320 pounds. He dropped to 290 by the start of last season, averaging 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds.
Meeks is now about 270 pounds. He could very well be one of this season’s breakout stars for the sixth-ranked Tar Heels.
“He’s more explosive. I want him to be more aggressive thinking. That doesn’t mean foul people. Get the ball and go stronger to the basket. You’re not carrying 285 to 295 now,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “I think he’s got to realize he’s worked his tail off off the court to do something that to me is a lot more difficult than changing as a basketball player.”
Anya, who is 6-9, struggled with his weight all season and yet still ranked ninth in the ACC in blocked shots in 2013-14. He’s now listed at 295 pounds and, like Meeks, could emerge as one of the ACC’s most improved players.
Anya played just under 12 minutes a game last season, a number the Wolfpack would like to see go up.
“Now that I’m in better shape, I’m more capable of going up and down the court,” Anya said. “I can go in there for 10-15 minutes stretches without them having to take me out.”
Sometimes, players get so inspired by their revamped figures that they help their teammates do the same.
UMass center Tyler Bergantino went from 280 pounds to 230 while in high school. He bulked up to 250 once he got to Amherst, but as a junior he’s trying to stay at 235 without sacrificing muscle mass.
Bergantino is trying to impart the nutritional wisdom he’s learned to freshman Rashaan Holloway, who at 6-10 has already gone from 320 to 280 pounds as he awaits clearance from the NCAA.
“I already know how to do it, so I think it’s more of a practice with me. I have that practice discipline for making the right decision. I think that’s stuff Rashaan has to learn — not by failing, but by succeeding. Once he makes the right decisions and once he sees the results, he will continue to (make the right decisions),” Bergantino said.
Iowa State lost its top two players in Melvin Ejim, the Big 12 Player of the Year, and star guard DeAndre Kane.
The Cyclones will lean more than ever on Niang, whose reshaped body should help him meet that challenge.
“He continues to go out and do the things that make him special, and that’s making plays for his teammates and taking what the defense gives him,” Hoiberg said. “That’s what Georges has done whether he’s a little hefty or whether he’s ‘Mr. Svelte’ bodybuilder like he is now,” Hoiberg said.
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee contributed to this report.
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