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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Strong ‘Cats

Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh / Arizona Daily Wildcat

In a year of transformation for the Arizona men’s basketball program, changes from the new hardwood to the new banners to the new head coach can be seen.

The change that will have the greatest impact in the long haul led to a 20-pound muscle gain for freshman Derrick Williams and helped fellow freshman Solomon Hill cut 30 pounds of fat before the start of the school year.

This change has been spurred on by the leadership of Arizona’s new strength and conditioning coach, Chris Rounds, who followed head coach Sean Miller to the desert from the cold Cincinnati, Ohio, winters at Xavier University.

Since taking the job at Arizona during the summer, he’s had his work cut out for him. Although Arizona’s 2009 class of freshmen was strong ranking wise, the trainer admits that strength didn’t translate to the weight room.

“”They were a very weak group coming in, but they have taken great strides and worked very hard on it,”” Rounds said. “”It’s not a knock on them; it’s just that a lot (of) high schools don’t have their kids lift.””

Rounds, 37, was an assistant strength trainer on the 1998 Kentucky national championship team and spent five years on Miller’s staff at Xavier. While he is also responsible for the women’s tennis team at Arizona, his transformation of UA’s men’s basketball players has been talked about most.

In one press conference, Miller willingly told reporters that guard Momo Jones was the only one of the team’s five freshmen that could do a single push-up.

As ridiculous as it sounds, Rounds vouches that was, in fact, true.

“”If you were to tell them to do a push-up fresh, they probably would have been able to do one, but I couldn’t guarantee that,”” he said

“”They were (a) weak group of individuals coming in — they’re not at this point,”” he added. “”I don’t think their strength is an advantage for them at this point, but by next year it will be.””

As for the returning players, Rounds noticed that they had a strong foundation but no continuity.

“”They had a good strength coach last year as well, but without a head coach, it’s hard for a strength coach to do his job,”” Rounds said. “”Strength and conditioning is only as important as the head coach makes it.””

“”If the head coach doesn’t care or have the ability to say, ‘I’m going to be here for the long term,'”” he added, “”it’s very difficult for the strength coach to do his job, no matter how good they are. You need the leverage from the top to get the kids to work hard.””

Throughout the season, Miller has raved about the effects the strength program will have in the future. It was a key part of his program at Xavier. All five Xavier starters from his Sweet 16 team a year ago could bench press 185 pounds 15 times or more.

“”Although players look mature physically, they’re light years away from where they’re one day going to be,”” Miller said.

Added Rounds: “”We definitely want to have a strong powerful team. Coach Miller’s system of basketball is a very physical way to play the game. It becomes very important that your team can hold up to that and can do the things they need to do on the court.””

While the weight room is important, so are players’ diets

The ultimate goal is to build strength in the student athletes, but Rounds has constantly had to teach college athletes that diet is also essential. Both Hill and center Kyryl Natyazhko came to the program with an early start to their “”freshman 15.””

“”Most college kids come to college with very poor eating habits, and when they get to college it gets worse,”” Rounds said. “”A typical college kid will not eat breakfast, will not (eat) until after class at 12 or 1, then they will crush a bunch of food at dinner and eat something right before they go to bed.””

Hill stepped on the Arizona campus weighing 248 and is currently at around 218, adding 20 pounds of muscle after first losing the body fat.

“”That’s a tremendous compliment to his work ethic,”” Miller said. “”That’s where you know a year from now, when you watch him, you’ll say, ‘Wow, he’s gotten a lot better.'””

Rounds mentioned forward Jamelle Horne and guard Brendon Lavender as some of the stronger players on the team, though he thinks Horne can get about 15 pounds stronger to add to his athleticism. Jones, who Rounds said is naturally strong, is known to have some of the most powerful legs on the team, which Rounds said works to his advantage on the court.

Derrick Williams has improved his body more than anybody, having gone from 228 pounds to 248 and 14 percent body fat to 11 percent over the course of his freshman season. Williams has seemingly stayed strong the entire season while many freshmen hit a physical wall at some point.

“”My body is fine right now. I just keep going every day in practice, especially in the weight room,”” said Williams during a weekly press conference before the team’s first meeting against ASU. “”Rounds keeps us going with the weights and getting stronger every day.””

One of the most impressive players for Rounds is senior guard Nic Wise.

“”Nic Wise is an interesting person because he’s had injuries that have hampered his ability to lift weights, but he’s done a good job of taking care of his body,”” Rounds said.

Players continue to work out during the season, but 40-minute workouts are shortened to 25 minutes so that players aren’t overworked. Rounds splits players into two separate groups. Some work out three times a week, some two days a week, depending on health or the number of minutes they play.

Rounds credits his success over the years to Miller and the coaching staff allowing him time with the players during the season.

“”Coach Miller allows me to have time in season which really makes the difference,”” Rounds said. “”A lot of teams won’t lift in season, or lift sporadically, which won’t allow you to develop guys.””

Arizona players have gotten stronger since the beginning of the season, but they still have a long way to go to reach their potential.

“”Our guys aren’t necessarily the strongest guys in college basketball right now,”” Rounds said. “”We know that, and you can see that when we play. We’ll work hard to fix that for next season.””

With obvious results, Rounds insists there is nothing special to his workouts that have been successful in building players’ strength.

“”We just go hard, and we do it all the time,”” he said.

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