A Q&A with Assistant S&C Coach Richard Akins

A question and answer session with assistant strength coach Richard Akins, the strength coach for the men's and women's basketball teams.

What do you do with the freshmen when they first come in during the summer?
Answer - "The first thing we do with the freshmen is we teach them how we want them to lift weights. The worst thing you can do is have someone lift weights without the proper technique. We spend as much time as we can to teach them how we want them to lift, from the squat to the arm curl. So, they go through a period of teaching that could take a week, two weeks or three weeks.

"Once we feel good about their form and technique, we will test them in the squat, bench and incline. That's what we use to gauge their strength level for both their upper and lower body.

"All of our kids, boys and girls, do the same program - the sets, the reps, the exercises. But they are doing it based on their strength level. They aren't competing with anybody else in the weight room. We are trying to increase their strength level."

When you work with them during the summer, how often do they lift weights and how much conditioning do they do each week?
Answer - "We work with them from Monday through Thursday. Monday and Wednesday is our leg days. And Tuesday and Thursday are our upper body days.

"We don't do much conditioning with them during the summer. We will do some agility things with them and some sled work with them, but as far as doing a lot of running, we don't do that. We probably do 15 to 20 minutes of agility work at the end of each workout."

How much time do you spend with them during preseason and during the season?
Answer - "Once school starts and practice starts and the season starts, we try to give them as much free time as possible while still getting their work done.

"Once we start school and have what we call our off-season, we will lift Monday, Wednesday and Friday with both teams. We do our conditioning on Tuesday and Thursday. We only have about 16 or 18 running days before practice starts. And that's all you really need if you are doing it right."

You've worked with football and baseball players before. How is it different with them compared to basketball players?
Answer - "It's really not different at all. The basic program is the same for all of them. What I want to do is give the sports coach all the things that it takes to be an athlete - the strongest, the most well-conditioned, the most explosive, the most flexible. Then, they will teach and coach them to play the game."

You worked with Erick Dampier, who left here weighing 270 pounds. You've also worked with Jarvis Varnado, who will probably leave here weighing 210 to 220 pounds. Why was Dampier able to gain so much more weight than Varnado has during his time at Mississippi State?
Answer - "Jarvis is probably 20 to 25 pounds heavier right now than he was when he was a freshman. There are some people who just don't gain weight until later in life. And there are some people like Ravern Johnson who are skinny guys. He'll probably be like that all of his life, although he'll probably gain 8 or 10 pounds here or there. But he won't bulk up and look like Romero (Osby). It's a body type and it's also their metabolism. And you also have some kids who just don't like to eat.

"But while some people might make comments about how skinny they are, they don't understand how strong they are."

I was going to ask about that. Just because they are skinny, that doesn't mean they are not strong, does it?
Answer - "Our kids are very strong, very powerful for their size. Barry Stewart is very strong. Phil Turner is also very strong even though he doesn't weigh a lot. So is Ravern. And you could go right down the line. I think our kids are as strong as any around. They may not weigh 250 pounds but genetically they just aren't going to bulk up like that."

How does being stronger help them?
Answer - "To me, being a lot stronger gives you a lot more confidence. If you know you are as stronger or stronger than the guy you are playing against, you are going to have a better feeling about who is going to win the battle in the paint or the battle out front.

"Also, you want your kids to feel at the end of the season as rested and as good as they did when the season started. So, the better conditioned you are in and the stronger you are at the beginning of the season, the stronger you are going to be and the better you are going to feel when it comes tournament time."

Talking about individual players. Dee Bost came in a slim guy and not that strong. How does he compare now to what he was like as a true freshman?
Answer - "He is much, much stronger. Dee is a very strong point guard. He's not big but he is strong. And he has a great understanding what we are trying to do in the weight room to transfer it to the basketball court. And that is believing that you can do the impossible. But you can go right down the list from Barry Stewart to Phil Turner to Romero Osby. No matter what is put in front of them, they believe they can handle it."

You have another player that has a unique situation - John Riek. He's a freshman and he came in rehabbing from knee surgery. How limited were your workouts with him?
Answer - "We knew what his injury was so we already knew what he was capable of doing from the start. There were probably two or three things we did different with him than we did with the so-called healthier guys. What we did with him was work a lot with his flexibility. We worked a lot with high reps, multiple sets so that we could condition those muscles that weren't in great shape. He's running the floor. He's doing the leg work basically like everybody else. Due to how long he is, there is a little change you may have to do with him, maybe not squat as deep as the other guys do. He's done everything that we have asked of him. During the off-season, I can't remember him missing a day."

I was told by some of the other players that his work ethic is tremendous. Do you agree with that?
Answer - "Oh yes. He has done everything that we have asked him to do and more. As a matter of fact, sometimes you have to pull him back. If we tell him to do four sets, he may want to do six. But you can get to the point of over-training. And you don't want to do that."

I haven't seen him play so I haven't seen this firsthand. But I've been told his vertical leap is not very good. Is that due to his knee injury? And if so, will it come back as his knee continues to heal?
Answer - "John can jump some, but he's not a Phil Turner and he's not Richard Akins either. I can't jump off the floor. A lot of those seven-foot guys are not going to have a great vertical. A lot of them are so long they don't have to jump. Have you ever seen Shaq (O'Neal) jump?"

What's it like to work with Rick Stansbury and Sharon Fanning from the perspective of a strength and conditioning coach?
Answer - "I have been very fortunate that my coaches will allow me to do what I want to do. Sharon and Rick both have let me coach them the way I want to coach them."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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