Hoopsters Back in Action

The CU men's basketball roster will have six new faces on it this upcoming season. But the most important new face in the program may be someone who doesn't shoot jump shots or fight for rebounds. Assistant strength and conditioning coach Vernon Stephens has several of the Buffs, including Richard Roby, in the best shape of their lives as they begin practices for their preseason tournament in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Lamont Arrington weighs 32 pounds more than he did right after the 2004-05 season.

Richard Roby increased his bench press 25 pounds, and his vertical leap by an inch to 34 inches.

Chris Copeland is the strongest he's ever been after turning body fat into lean muscle.

Same thing with Andy Osborn.

All four Buffaloes, along with most of their teammates, increased their strength and conditioning numbers over the summer after working out in a program designed by Vernon Stephens, a CU assistant strength and conditioning coach. Stephens joined Greg Finnegan's staff in Sept. 2003, and took over the responsibility of the men's basketball workouts five months ago.

"He's very demanding," Roby said. "He likes to push us, which is good."

Before coming to CU, Stephens — a high school basketball player — oversaw the entire strength program at the University of North Florida, his alma mater. He's glad to be back working with hoopsters, something he did for four years at UNF.

"Because the nature of basketball — they don't emphasize weight training in high school as much as the football teams do," Stephens said. "They come in and their bodies are under-developed in some areas, over-developed in some areas. The biggest thing we've done is look at them as basketball players. We test somebody for where they're at, then project where they should be at."

For most of the returning CU players, where they weren't was big in the paint. Word was out last season, if you had the beef, you could push the Buffalo post players out of the key and force them into a perimeter game. Sometimes it worked OK for Colorado, but most of the time it didn't. Colorado went 4-12 in the Big 12 and 14-16 overall last year, finishing 11th in the conference.

Stephens had a general directive from the CU coaching staff — "have them ready." For Colorado, ready is now, as the team began 10 days of practice on Tuesday in preparation for its preseason trip to Canada Sept. 2-5, where it will play three Canadian colleges.

Having watched the Buffs last season, Stephens had an idea of what each player needed.

"Lamont Arrington at 6-11, if you're 200 pounds, you're going to get pushed around in the Big 12," Stephens said of the Colorado senior center. "Richard Roby, watching him play last year, he's got a great first step, but he couldn't go to the hole and take contact and finish the play.

"I had each player sit down and write out goals. What do they need to close the gap so they wouldn't be 11th in the Big 12?"

Each returning player spent at least a month in Boulder over the summer working out. Several, including Osborn, the 6-8, senior, spent the entire summer in Boulder.

Osborn said the work in the weightroom not only helped him physically, but also mentally.

"It will give me the mindset that (Big 12 post players) aren't going to do to us what they did last year," Osborn said. "We're not going to accept getting pounded in the paint and be a perimeter-based team. We're going to have to bang with guys down there."

Though Stephens designed the players' individual workouts, he didn't oversee them, per NCAA rules. However, beginning the second week of September, after the team returns from its Canadian tour, Stephens will lead a month of preseason conditioning workouts.

The team will lift weights at 6 a.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursdays. They'll do track work Mondays, then basketball-specific conditioning and agility drills Tuesdays and Thursdays.

On Fridays, Stephens has something special planned. He's calling it "Old-School Fridays." Each Friday will be something different, something unexpected. And it'll be tough.

Stephens isn't kidding around when he says, "I want to make it where guys throw up, where guys try to quit and their teammates won't let them."

That last part is crucial – "where guys try to quit and their teammates won't let them." When Stephens watched the Buffs last season, he saw the team's mental toughness and togetherness were crucial areas that needed work.

"A lot of the stuff with them (this summer) was making them be accountable, making them stay on a schedule, making them hold each other accountable and making them push themselves," he said.

He pointed out that most of the starters last season were either backups before that, or new to the team. Roby was the team's best player by the time conference play came around. But he was a freshman, and wasn't in a leadership position.

"I think a key for them will be to get themselves past whatever barrier they had before and sell out to help the team win," Stephens said. "Last year, they'd get down by 20, then fight their way back only to lose by four or five points.

"I'm hoping those close games last year, we'll turn to wins."

Buffs will make the most of time without Ashby
Senior Julius Ashby was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester. He has the opportunity to be reinstated to the team after the fall semester if he improves his academic standing.

Ashby was the team's leading rebounder last season (6.0) and the best inside presence. He had a particularly positive summer workout experience, but the earliest he could play is late December.

"It hurts," said Osborn. "Obviously, he's a good ball player. But we'll make do with what we've got on the floor. We'll adjust and we'll get better from it."

Oh Canada
The Buffs play a double-header vs. the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser U. on Sept 3.The following day, the Buffs play Trinity Western University.

"It's very important for us," Roby said. "It's important to get a good start in Canada."

Osborn also called it a "huge advantage" to be able to practice 10 days and play three games before most of the rest of their 2005-06 competition.

"We'll get to see how things are going before most teams even step on the floor," he said. "We're going to get a chance to play a few extra games – get our seniors and our young guys a chance to step in and get a feel for practice, for a few games."

Quick Shots
Marcus Hall separated his shoulder at some point in the summer, but has recovered. Copeland fell hard during a game in a Denver summer league and missed to weeks of conditioning training recovering. He is 100 percent now. …There are 19 players on the CU roster, including two new walk-ons (6-5 forward Kyle Carder and 6-2 guard Chase Perkowski), two transfers (6-5 F Jermyl Jackson-Wilson, Ohio State will have to sit out a year; 6-3 guard Dominique Coleman is eligible now), one freshmen scholarship player (6-7 forward Calvin Williams), and another freshman (6-8 forward Ryan Dermody), who will pay his own way this season and get a scholarship next season.

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