Stanford Robinson looks at his body and can’t believe his eyes. He’s so excited with what three months in Je’Ney Jackson’s strength and conditioning have done for his frame that he wants to make sure everyone sees it.
“I definitely feel improvement,” Robinson said. “Sometimes I just touch my arms to see how big I got. If you ask coach Jackson right now, I walk around with my shirt off all the time now, just because I feel like I’m that much bigger. He always tells me to put my shirt back on because I still got a bird chest. I definitely notice it though on the court, because I’m starting to use my body a little bit more, finishing layups, attacking the rim, and it’s just been helping me with my game.”
The rest of Indiana’s freshmen apparently aren’t as much of exhibitionists as Robinson, who after Friday’s press conference is the definitive leader in the race for the title of the most colorful member of the class. But all six Hoosier rookies agreed that by far the most jarring part of their college experience has been their introduction to college weight lifting and conditioning.
“You find out you’re not in shape like you thought you were,” freshman wing Troy Williams said.
Said freshman forward Devin Davis: “It’s been pretty tough. You have to get your mind right for every workout. You can’t come in and act like you’re just gonna get by. You really have to push yourself.”
That sounds like it should be obvious to players and athletes of this caliber, but the truth is that few high schools have conditioning programs that are even remotely as demanding as what they get in college. Freshman forward Noah Vonleh, a McDonald’s All-American and the highest-rated of the IU newcomers, said he barely lifted weights at New Hampton Prep, a prestigious prep school in New Hampshire. Williams played at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, perennially one of the nation’s best basketball programs, but was stunned at what Jackson asked him to do.
But the effect is already evident across the board for the freshmen, most notably in Vonleh. He arrived at IU in late May weighing in at 215 pounds and says he’s already up to 240, an astounding weight gain in a three-month period.
“Coach Jackson, he just knows how to get your body right,” Vonleh said. “We have training tables, they have breakfast, dinner and lunch, so just eating well, that played a lot, just getting a lot of meals in, working hard and drinking protein. … I definitely notice it playing in the post against bigger guys. Hanner (Mosquera-Perea) he’s real strong. When Cody Zeller came up here in the summer, he was real strong. It was tough playing against him, but I just noticed I could finish a lot better through guys. I noticed that when I was the LeBron James Camp for the college players and the Amare Stoudemire Camp. A lot of guys I played high school basketball with and camps and stuff, they were like, ‘Yeah, you got a lot bigger, a lot stronger.’”
Vonleh isn’t the only one who is significantly larger, especially compared to their listed weights on recruiting websites. The 6-4 Robinson is up from 185 to 193 according to the IU roster. Williams is up from 190 to 206. Center Luke Fischer is up from 215 to 230 and forward Devin Davis is up from 185 to 221. Obviously, not all of that weight gain has come in Bloomington and some of those players had already bulked up some before they left high school. Still, former Cathedral swingman Collin Hartman is up 210 from his listed weight of 185 and he says at least 15 of those pounds have come since he came to IU.
“Just being able to guard bigger guys and being able to hold my ground in the post if I get switched onto a bigger guy or being able to box bigger guys out and just hold my ground better,” Hartman said. “All the weight training stuff. And like Stan said, walking around with your shirt off and what not. It definitely feels better, you feel stronger, and you feel more capable of doing things. It’s a confidence thing, too.”
These Hoosier freshmen need confidence, because several of them are almost assuredly going to be thrown into the fire quickly. As a class, they constitute just over half of the scholarship players on the roster. Of the other seven, one (senior guard Evan Gordon) is a first-year transfer, two are coming off of injuries that all but negated their 2012-13 seasons (Austin Etherington) and only two averaged more than 10 minutes a game (senior Will Sheehey and sophomore Yogi Ferrell.) It’s hard to imagine the Hoosiers won’t have at least one freshman starter – likely Vonleh — and several in any seven-, eight-, or nine-man rotation IU coach Tom Crean might devise. That’s been building slowly through strength and conditioning and their ability to meet the demands of daily on floor workouts, which are also more than what they’re used to.
“You’re still doing the same drills, everything is the same as in high school,” Robinson said. “But it’s just the intensity level. It picks up, and when you pick your intensity level up, you actually get better as a player.”