Players In Great Shape As Practice Begins

Practice kicks off today for the OSU men's basketball team. By the sounds of it, they are going to be physically ready for whatever new head coach Thad Matta will throw at them. Kyle Lamb has a report on the team's physical shape and how much it has improved over the summer.

Their faces bear the look of extreme confidence. The muscular definitions almost unanimously appear vastly improved. However, with practice beginning today, now it's time for the Ohio State men's basketball team to put their hard work in motion.

If you polled each player, all of them would tell you how hard they worked this off-season, not only individually but collectively as a team, as well.

Just how hard they really did work this summer will only be known after they have stepped on the court for the first time. However, Thursday as they answered questions for the media at Photo Day, they certainly had a lot of conviction about their pleas -- that they are in much better shape.

"We worked very hard (this off-season)," senior guard Tony Stockman said. "Even when Coach O'Brien was here, even before he left, we were working very hard in the spring, summer, and carrying into the fall. We worked extremely hard and hard enough we feel we can be pretty good."

Although there's no way of knowing for certain, you almost have to take their words for it.

For instance, sophomore Ivan Harris said his body fat went from over 6 percent last season down to 4.9 percent as of now. He also said he notices a difference.

"When I run up and down the court now, I don't feel near as winded," Harris added. "I'm in the best shape I've ever been in without a doubt."

If nothing else, looks can be deceiving, but on the surface, it appears these players are indeed in better shape.

Watching Ricardo Billings and Brandon Fuss-Cheatham this summer, they both appeared to be a step quicker. Matt Marinchick and J.J. Sullinger appeared to have lost some weight. Tony Stockman appears to have bulked up in the upper and lower bodies. Terrance Dials looks to be a very trim and agile big man.

Until the season begins, it's all about looks. However, they certainly went through a grueling routine each and every morning.

Each day, they were voluntarily waking up at 5:00 AM to run five miles a day, do a lot of lifting, and hit the gym for individual workouts.

"Everyone is working very hard to get better each and every day," Sullinger explained. "Coach Matta stresses one percent better, getting one percent better every day. Every day so far, since Coach Matta has been here, I can honestly say that everyone has put forth the effort to get one percent better. That's what we're striving to do."

Improvement is something the team sorely needs.

Last season, the perimeter defense was shabby at best. Often times, players appeared to be winded and hunched over with hands on their hips much of the second half.

Back in April, Coach O'Brien vowed that this team would be the best-conditioned team in the Big Ten this season. Although he was unable to stick around very long to see that progress be made, it seems he started something that Coach Matta is finishing.

One of the things that endear the players to Matta is that he leads by example.

"Every time we see him (Matta), he's sweating," Stockman joked. "It puts the burden on you to make sure you're in shape for practice. It's like he says, he's not going to make us do anything he can't do. But we'll see what exactly that is because he's always working."

The time spent in the gym with one another seems to have added a lot to the team chemistry, so says senior Fuss-Cheatham.

"We have grown as a team and gotten better," Fuss-Cheatham said. "We have to prove to ourselves we can be a team. It's a fresh start for everyone."

Dials also believes the team has grown much closer.

"I think we definitely have team chemistry (now)," Dials said. "We have played in a lot of open gyms in the summer and the fall. All the guys are staring to play well together."

Even Coach Matta himself can see the progress being made as far as chemistry goes. In fact, he said he's rather surprised at how much the team has appeared to gel so soon.

"I've been pleasantly surprised with their togetherness," Matta said. "The biggest thing is trying to continually bring this team closer together. They have done everything we've asked them to do, and they have done it with respect."

"In fact, just the other day, two of our coaches went to a local restaurant to eat, and a few of our players were there eating together. That's the type of thing I'm happy to see," Matta added.

As practice begins, it will do so with a unit that has worked the part, done so together, and done so with pride.

It remains to be seen how much better the team will be this season from last year's 14-16 disaster, but whatever happens, will happen with a team that is vowing to be as one.

"We're all together this year," Harris said. "Last year, a lot of guys would go out by themselves and not hang out with the team. But this year, a lot of people are hanging out with the team, sharing laughs, we're just all together.


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