TT caught up with Terps men's basketball strength and performance coach Kyle Tarp on the eve of the holiday weekend for some of his own fireworks going on in the Terps weight room, where there are many new faces and even technology as the Terps pivot off their Sweet Sixteen season with a cast of new yet promising talent.
Tarp, who has revolutionized how the Terps prepare and train for hoops, has even added more cutting-edge "bells and whistles" this summer at the Xfinity Center, which we will delve into Part II of this three part off-season summer hoops series.
But first the players, including four of five new freshmen/newcomers, who have hit campus and begun with both with Tarp and in summer school session I. The fifth, import power forward Joshua Tomaic of the Canairis Basketball Academy, is expected later in July once he is through the NCAA Clearinghouse. Guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter, and forwards Micah Thomas and Justin Jackson, are in College Park.
We always like asking Tarp who his summer "workout warrior" has been, the pace-setter in the bowels of the Xfinity Center each day.
"You know, we've got quite a few guys. But I would say probably the ones that stick out in my mind are Cekovski and Damonte," Tarp said. "Those two have been rock stars, 100 percent all in no matter what is going on. Great energy, and workouts are not a chore for those guys. They really attack them and have fun with them."
Tarp also likes the tangibles they bring as Maryland's two center prospects for 2016-17.
"Two seven-footers that are 250 pounds and can throw around some weight and really push guys. So they really stick out," Tarp added.
Then, at the power forward position, a newcomer equally as physical and imposing is 6-foot-8 L.G. Gill, the Duquesne fifth-year transfer who can play right away.
"L.G. is another fun guy to work with. And he is a freak. All these guys can jump out of the gym. We just have some guys with some really special physical tools," Tarp said
Tarp has Cekovskivski and Dodd out in front, and he has seen their numbers balloon each year.
"In terms of just raw strength, I remember Damonte two years ago struggling to get 185 pounds, and now he is one of my heaviest lifters. So yesterday he is getting singles, four sets at 265-270 pounds. He has gotten a lot stronger. And same thing as Cekovski was well up into the 250s, 260s for his singles the other day. So it is pretty impressive, especially when you got guys who are 7-foot plus when it comes to wingspan," Tarp said.
Tarp also sees this group, as a whole, "cumulatively probably one of the strongest teams I have had." He said his top-line guys, Dodd, Cekovski and Gill, have impressed "but even my middle-of-the-pack guys, like Jared [Nickens] is up to 230, and Ken Auslander is a 250-plus guy. So we have more between guys with those kind of numbers than I have ever had before."
Impressive is that Nickens came in with 177 pound body weight, is now at 205 pounds, and is hitting 230 on the bench when before he could barely manage the bar.
"With Jared, that has been a goal of him," Tarp said of the junior wing getting stronger/more physical. "He couldn't compete at the level he wanted to, so we put together a strategy as far as strength development and obviously his nutrition has been a huge component of it. And day by day he executes it and his body has made the changes, his game is around the rim more, and he's more physical. And his jumping ability. So he has been great. I always tell him all the time, 'Jared, you are not just a shooter, man.' So we're going to add a lot more to his game to make him more versatile at both ends of the court. Defensively, with his length and his size, he could be dominant on defense."
As for injured sophomore guard Dion Wiley, who tore his knee in the preseason last year and missed the season, he is 100 percent.
"He is full-go. He looks great, been in practices, and is sprinting and cutting and jumping and getting after it," Tarp said.
Tarp said a key was getting Wiley's weight down to take as much pressure off the knee as they can, and he sits at 211 pounds now. The goal is 205 this summer. Last year at this time, Wiley had swelled to 225 pounds, which was also a concern in high school. As a senior in high school, he was 240 pounds.
"He has done a very nice job, with his work, his nutrition, so he is going to be good," Tarp said.
As for Gill, some have compared him to another Justin Anderson given his size, strength and athleticism. Tarp has a comparison closer to home.
"He's got that Dez type of power and athleticism, but he is bigger than Dez," Tarp said. "He's got probably 2 1/2 inches on Dez, and wing-span wise he's got three inches on Dez,...he is just a bigger guy. But that type of muscular, powerful build. He can't handle the ball like Dez and be that creative like Dez, but he is a beast like Dez."
Another man of intrigue, sophomore forward Ivan Bender, has come a long way in the weight room as well. Tarp said he didn't want anything to do with workouts when he first got here, and now he is Tarp's most proficient worker as for details and quality of work.
"I don't think he liked me the first year he was in town," Tarp joked. "He has really turned the corner."
As for backup point guard Jaylen Brantley, Tarp also joked a bit ("I hope he got all that Running Man stuff out of his system.")
"But he is good, he is good. We continue to try and lean him up. I know he is light, but he's not the kind of guy we are going to put as ton of weight on. We just want to make sure he stays lean and quick and be able to do what he does to be successful."
As for the other newcomers, Justin Jackson set Tarp's program record with a 9-inch hand measurement, while Thomas his standing vertical leap at 36 1/2 inches. As for the skinny combo guard Huerter, Tarp loves his ability to move and be coached.
"I expected his first workout to be "one of those days," but he picked up on stuff even like advanced movement drills very quickly. He is that kind of "natural athlete" and I think with his success on the basketball court and the baseball diamond, he is juts one of those pure athlete guys."
Tarp said Huerter will be a 'Jake Layman type," but not as tall. His weight is in the 190's, and they want him to 210-215 eventually.
As for new point guard Cowan, who doesn't back down from anyone, Tarp calls him "a little boulder. He will do whatever, just work his tail off."
Thomas, the 6-7 forward, "just has some freakish athletic skills," Tarp added of his new standing vertical record holder.
As for Jackson, Tarp said he is unusually long with a 7-2 wingspan and the hand measurement record.
"He is a physical specimen. He's a little like Robert [Carter, Jr.], but a little shorter, lighter Robert at 220 when Robert was more like 240. But a better mover and ball-handler than Robert."
Last but not least, Tarp has been truly impressed by junior guard Melo Trimble's return from flirting with the NBA last month, and his attendant attitude.
"He has been great, because I expected him to maybe be a little dismayed about how it all went down," Tarp said. "But his goal is to get to the NBA, and that is our goal, we want to get him to where he wants to be.
"And he is such a great kid and wants to be successful. But I wasn't sure how he would be, but he was awesome. He was excited, happy to be back with his teammates, happy to be done with the process, and he's been busting to go."
Tarp said they want to keep Trimble light for his explosive ability. He is about three pounds off his mark. Tarp also has Trimble in a coaching and leadership roles on the team now, even though he is "still not the most vocal kid in the world. But this summer he has really worked to step outside of his comfort zone and add that to his game. He knows that is necessary for a point guard to be able to communicate and get everyone on the same page," Tarp said.