Illinois Strength and Conditioning coach Jimmy Price has the task of building up the strength of his slender inside players. But weight and strength gains are relative. Using a football analogy, Price says improvements depend on the starting point.
"We used to say Nebraska got all the kids that came in benching 425 and left benching 500. At Texas Tech, we'd get kids that benched 250, and we'd get them to 375. If you're already starting at a higher point, you don't have to go as far."
Junior Mike Tisdale has improved his weight by 40 pounds since arriving from high school, and he has tripled his bench press. But it is hard to find the time to make noticeable improvements during the course of a long season.
"For basketball, you have to get the strength portion in when you can. Tisdale didn't play much his first year, so we could lift three or four times a week. Last year, you obviously couldn't do that. It's based on individual needs.
"I couldn't do the same program with Demetri McCamey I do with Mike Tisdale. Because Demetri would look like a 240 pound linebacker.
"The biggest emphasis on the individual workout is breaking it down based on body composition needs as opposed to a cookie-cutter program that everyone does. You have to base it on what the individual athlete needs, around the things you want to get done like a major prevention standpoint and everything else."
There are limits as to how much strength a slender person can gain.
"You always have your genetic ceiling. For players like Tisdale and Davis, a quality gain in muscle mass is 10 pounds a year. And that is really busting your butt, working hard. It's not only getting that, but maintaining that too.
"If they can do that, you also don't want their vertical to decrease, their mobility to decrease, their stamina to decrease. It has to be good lean body mass. Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis are not in danger of this, but you don't want it to be fat weight, water weight."
It is also true that people with long arms are at a disadvantage when doing weight lifting.
"Absolutely. The farther the distance you have to push something, the harder it's gonna be. That's why you see power lifters and Olympic lifters that typically have short arms. It's less distance to move the bar, and typically their body structure is thicker with more muscle mass if you have shorter arms.
"That is why it is easier for me than someone like Mike Tisdale or Mike Davis. They're mechanically disadvantaged for the weight room."
Tisdale in particular needs to improve strength in his legs and hips to maintain a post position against powerful opponents. He is working at it, but there is only so much one can do, and only so much time with which to do it.
"That has to be done ahead of time instead of during season. Some of it is the way he's built. There are advantages and disadvantages. He has a high center of gravity. That means one, he can face up and shoot over people.
"Two, the disadvantage is that he can be pushed out. Is he gonna be a great low block player, probably not. Can he face up and do the perimeter things other people can't, yes. So that's us seeing his strengths and weaknesses too.
"He's gotten stronger. He's had so much to do, and it's only been two years. So he's gonna mature more, his hormone levels will start to come up a little bit more, you get the 'man muscle' and start to mature a little bit more.
"And as he learns how to use his body to play, positioning is real important for him. If he stays high, he's gonna be pushed out, but if he makes a hard initial contact, then he doesn't have to work as hard. So that's where it will become easier for him, doing the little things to get good shots through proper position."
Freshmen D.J. Richardson, Brandon Paul, Joseph Bertrand and Tyler Griffey have made a positive impression on Price this summer. They have all gained weight and strength, and they are adapting well to the pickup games with upperclassmen.
"The freshmen have done well in terms of working out, bringing their lunch pail so to speak. They work hard, they listen, they adapt, and they seem to do what you ask them to do. That is a lot of the battle.
"From what I've seen, they've got a pretty good hunger to want to get better, to be in the gym, to want to play. If you have someone who wants to train, it makes my job so much easier.
"I think that resonates throughout everybody else. If an older guy who isn't putting in the work sees these younger guys who are hungry, training hard and working hard, if they're any kind of competitor, they're gonna want to step up their effort and game too.
"The pickup games have been really good, and they compete. I think it is a situation where they will be good for the program all across the board."
Overall, Price is encouraged by the effort put in by the Illini in voluntary summer workouts.
"From my standpoint, yes. Absolutely. I think the guys have done a good job coming in and understanding they have to be good to win championships. You can't just do the minimum.
"If you do 70%, you're gonna get 70%. If you're shooting 50 shots, maybe instead of your goal being to make 25, maybe your goal is 30. Or, you stay until you make 30. It's the determination to better your performance. If you put that in consistently, that's gonna help in the long run.
"One of the worst things I see is kids thinking they're gonna be good without putting the time in. That is a complete false reality. They say it takes 1,000 hours a year to be proficient at something. That boils down to 20 hours a week. If you do that for 2, 3 or 4 years, then your proficiency is gonna be a lot better."