Natyazhko working to contribute

Kyryl Natyazhko may not have made much of an impact last season, but is working hard to contribute this year. Read on to see what kind of shape he is in, his reaction to the freshmen, and more.

It has been two years since Ukrainian big man Kyryl Natyazhko first arrived on campus at Arizona. He has spent much of the first two years figuring out just how to get acclimated to the college game. Now as a junior, Natyazhko is one of the older guys on the team and will be able to provide more leadership to the younger players. However, the center doesn't feel any additional pressure to lead and feels it's his responsibility to set an example on the floor for the incoming freshmen.

"There's no pressure," Natyazhko said. "We are just trying to do whatever we can do to help the young guys to understand our system; especially in the beginning or practices. We are just trying to work hard every day. We are just trying to bring the energy to practice – the seniors and juniors – so the freshmen know what it takes to get to the Elite Eight."

Natyazhko was a viable piece to a squad that was very close to reaching the Final Four a season ago. He was able to come off the bench and provide the team with much needed post-defense and energy in crucial spots. He showed the willingness and ability to make an impact in the paint on the defensive end of the floor and is now looking to improve his game in other areas.

"I have been working a lot on my jump shot, post-game and my body," Natyazhko said. "Just trying to lose weight."

Natyazhko's weight was a hot topic to discuss for fans this offseason. It was reported that the big man had allowed himself to exceed the 300 pound barrier at one point during the summer, but now he's worked his way into being in better shape than he was at the end of the 2010-11 season. The junior gives all the credit to strength and conditioning coach Chris Rounds for getting his health back on track.

"He really didn't get on me," Natyazhko said. "I want to give him all the credit. He actually helped me. He was like a real close friend to me. Him and I worked hard every day and he actually worked harder than me, which was really cool. He pushed me as hard as he could.

"I was playing in the tournament about 285. Now I am down to 274."

Natyazhko made sure he was able to get his weight back in check before the start of the season. UA needs as much experience in the post as possible and he should be counted on more this season than in his previous two.

"I have become stronger, Natyazhko said. "Coach expects me to play more minutes this year so it's going to be tough getting up and down carrying that much weight. You don't want to get hurt just because you're overweight."

While the big man from the Ukraine has spent a lot of time getting himself back into basketball shape this offseason, his main focus is his team. He doesn't put any emphasis on his expectations as an individual and instead he would rather direct his attention on the effort from the whole team.

"I don't expect anything out of myself individually," Natyazhko said. "My expectations are to come to practice every day ready; make sure everybody is working hard and that we get ready for every game."

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