By Steve Stone for MSNsportsNET.com
October 2, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – As the number of players adding muscle continues to grow, it is readily apparent that the effect of West Virginia University men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins is coming to fruition. One prime example is the growth of sophomore forward Devin Ebanks.
||Devin Ebanks has added 26 pounds to his 6-9 frame during the offseason.
Ebanks has undergone a tremendous transformation in what has been a productive one-year span. When Ebanks arrived at WVU, the BIG EAST all-Rookie team member was a nimble 189 pounds to compensate his 6-foot-9 frame.
However, a progressive offseason under second-year strength and conditioning coach Andy Kettler has given Ebanks a noticeable change in his physique. With broader shoulders, bigger arms and a larger chest, the highly-touted player has made great strides physically in the eyes of Kettler.
“He’s improved greatly,” Kettler said of Ebanks. “He’s put on about 26 pounds. This offseason he has been great, maturation-wise he’s been great. Devin has really improved himself tremendously.”
Last season, Ebanks earned praise for stepping up his game when it mattered most – in conference play. He averaged 11.1 points and 8.2 rebounds in 18 BIG EAST games, while shooting better than 47 percent from the field and averaging nearly 75 percent from the line.
Ebanks’ conference totals were a notch above his overall numbers from last year, showing that he could compete game after game with some of the nation’s best forwards and centers in arguably the country’s best conference. But with added strength and more power to his overall game, the preseason Wooden List honoree believes he can drive even harder to the basket and be more effective at drawing contact.
“I felt comfortable last year at my playing weight, but now that I’ve gained a little bit, it probably won’t be easier for opponents to bump me off the ball when I go to the basket,” Ebanks added. “When I rebound, it will probably be a lot easier to hold my ground and box out.”
Like many of his teammates, Ebanks has praised Kettler for his commitment in changing his look. The sophomore has been a gym rat throughout the entire offseason, knowing that this season’s squad faces lofty expectations for the 2009-10 season.
“I feel a lot stronger. Coach Andy has done a great job with us during the summer, plus we had a lot of time with him,” Ebanks said. “The whole team participated in running and getting in shape. I feel that we should be ready for the season.”
Part of why Kettler enjoys his job so much is not only because he witnesses the strength progression of each player over time, but because his strength training philosophies are fully supported by Huggins. The nation’s fifth active winningest coach was known for producing bigger, stronger players at Cincinnati, and he has brought that same mindset to a WVU program that once thrived on finesse and guile rather than toughness.
“I think it starts at the top,” Kettler says of WVU’s strength building. “It’s very important to Coach Huggins. I always tell the players, ‘You’re a basketball player first,’ but at the same time we are trying to make them even bigger and stronger. Certainly when you play all those nonconference games and you head into the BIG EAST, it shows that basketball isn’t for the weak anymore.”
And weak is certainly not a term that defines Ebanks. Sporting News Today’s No. 2 ranked forward only got stronger as his freshman season went on, which included a superb performance at the BIG EAST Tournament where he notched a combined 42 points against Pitt and Syracuse, and pulled down 18 boards versus Notre Dame.
As he becomes more conscious of what he is putting into his body, Ebanks will continue to mold himself into a stronger, more physical player. It is evident that most of his weight gained has been muscle, but the former St. Thomas Moore High standout has enjoyed a manageable meal routine to help put on weight.
“Of course there are exercises, but I think one of the more important things for me has been my eating habits,” Ebanks added. “I’ve been eating about four or five meals a day now, so that’s been helping me put on weight.”
After signing with WVU as one of the nation’s most heralded recruits, Ebanks was forced to adapt to the rapid change of college basketball – opponents were much stronger, the game was more physical, he was playing with and against top-notch shooters and he competed against teams and coaches with more advanced offensive and defensive schemes.
But outside of all the in-game differences, Ebanks needed to accept the necessity of weight lifting, especially under a Huggins-led program. His pledge for getting stronger is beginning to pay off after coming from a program that didn’t place a heavy reliance on weight lifting.
“We didn’t (lift weights) very much, we were kind of on our own with that,” Ebanks said of his high school days. “We had a choice to do that, but it wasn’t really mandatory for us to lift in high school. It’s a lot different now because it’s a mandatory, structured environment here. I like it, though, because I need to stronger to go where I want to go.”
||With his increased strength, Ebanks will look to power his way past defenders this year.
During Ebanks’ senior season in high school, he often watched former Mountaineer great Joe Alexander and his impressive development through his junior season in 2007-08. Under a much different system and earlier in his playing career, Alexander’s athleticism and ability to attack defenses was somewhat limited.
However, in his first and only season under Huggins, the eighth overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft flourished by averaging 16.9 points and 6.4 rebounds. The summer prior to his final season, Alexander packed on about 20 pounds and often credited Huggins’ strength system for allowing him to not become fatigued during games.
“That’s definitely one of the reasons I came here,” Ebanks admitted. “Watching Joe Alexander play the year before and getting recruited by Coach Huggins; it really helped my decision because I saw his progress through that year.”
The team’s strength progression is not just limited to Ebanks, according to Kettler. Nine players on this year’s squad are bench pressing 300 pounds or more, a mark that is sure to be right up there with some of the top programs in the country. Sophomore forward Kevin Jones, who shot 61 percent from the floor in conference games last year, has put on about 32 pounds to increase his weight to 250 pounds.
Senior forward Wellington Smith, 225 pounds last season, is now 247 pounds and bench pressing a football-like 370 pounds. Freshman Dan Jennings, an ESPNU top 100 recruit, is already benching 345 pounds.
“Wells is a beast now,” Ebanks said. “Truck, Kevin Jones and John Flowers have gotten stronger too. Those are pretty much the guys that needed that change in order to get stronger. Everybody else was basically where they needed to be at, but they followed up with it. Our freshmen are now starting to get their routine and they’ll be fine, I believe.”
With WVU at No. 9 in ESPN’s latest Top 25 preseason rankings, Ebanks and his teammates have made every effort to back up their initial praise with bigger, stronger bodies. The Mountaineers return 10 players from last season, including six players that started at least one contest and a reliable bench scorer in Jones, who is always a possibility in the starting five.
And with each returning player comes a commitment to collectively making the team bigger, faster and stronger. It’s a philosophy that Kettler believes could make this year’s squad even better than last season’s NCAA Tournament team.
“The work ethic has improved and that can help us be even more successful this season,” Kettler said.