Long. Slim. Skinny. Take your pick of a description for the Wichita State basketball newcomers on campus.
By October, they hope to change that first impression by adding several pounds of muscle. Their daily sessions in the basement of Koch Arena are a new level of intensity with bars and plates and rap music pounding the speakers, always followed by a recovery shake, available in vanilla, strawberry or chocolate.
“I need to get stronger before the season, and I know that,” junior Nick Wiggins said. “I haven’t lifted weights this consecutively in my life. It’s more repetition, a lot more repetition.”
Four newcomers are here, with as many as three expected later this summer. Wiggins is a 6-foot-6 swingman from Wabash Valley (Ill.) College. Forward Cleanthony Early (6-8) is a two-time NJCAA Division III Player of the Year from Sullivan County (N.Y.) Community College. Freshman Derail Green, from Houston Klein Forest, is a 6-foot-7 swingman. Those three are the long and athletic types who need to add weight and strength to win physical battles.
Fred VanVleet, a 6-foot guard from Rockford (Ill.) Auburn, is solidly built and looks more physically mature than most freshmen. All four know they need to shape up to thrive in college basketball. They don’t need to see physical specimens in other uniforms to get that message.
“I never really lifted weights when I was back at home as much as I’m doing right now,” Green said. “I’m out there playing pickup with the guys, and I can tell they’re a lot stronger than me. When I try to go past them, they give me a little bump and I’m bumping back. When I do it to them, I’m flying back toward the basket.”
Green said he gained five pounds in his two weeks in Wichita, bumping up to 195, and wants to reach 210 by the end of the summer. Wiggins weighs in at 187, after gaining five pounds, and wants to add 13 more by the time the season starts. Early, who will called upon to score, rebound and defend in the lane, weighs 214 and wants to add around 10 pounds.
“That would be solid,” he said. “Then I could stand my ground. I’m not a weak kid.”
VanVleet’s mission is find his best weight, whether that means losing or gaining, and getting stronger. He weighs 190 pounds.
“Just being ready to go out there and contribute and not get pushed around,” he said. “They might not look it, but (his teammates) are getting just as strong as me. I don’t think, physically, we’ll be at a disadvantage to anybody.”
To prepare for the banging and pushing in the lane, Early is also working on his footwork and positioning during practices with the coaches. In junior college, he could win matchups with his superior skill and athletic ability. In the Missouri Valley Conference, he will face players of equal talent.
“They’re working on me getting lower,” he said. “I’ve got to get more explosive. Making sure I’m under control with the ball. I’m 6-8, and I’m pretty fast and I can jump. But everyone knows at the next level, this level right here, you’ve got to have a little bit of weight.”