Building Complete Athletes
Dec. 6, 2008
By Maks Goldenshteyn
SEATTLE - Scott Suggs had his nose broken. Elston Turner got whacked in the teeth. Senior center Artem Wallace, also a victim of an ill-placed Jon Brockman appendage, now wears an inch-long scar above his right eye several weeks after having stitches removed.
Wallace doesn't take it personally. He said Brockman hits everyone, calling the blows an "initiation" for the freshmen.
But new UW strength and conditioning coach Matt Ludwig had a different kind of initiation planned for the first-year players -- workout sessions beginning at 6 a.m.
"For a lot of them, they come from various programs where they're the best of the best and they may not have had to be accountable for certain things," Ludwig said, sitting in an office housed by a newly renovated, 12,000 square-foot weight room. "Getting them out of bed at 6 a.m. is also a thing that's out of the realm of a lot of kids' understanding and they roll in ... tired. How is that any different from going out in the second half of a game after you put [in] 20 hard minutes?"
It's an initial experience Ludwig calls both mentally and physically challenging, and it can be a real eye opener for some.
"Hey, this is a small part of what it's going to take to be good," he tells them.
The athletic training staff starts new players off slowly, applying body composition tests and checking for good posture, balance and strength in lower limbs. The staff makes sure the players' bodies are equipped with the tools they need to excel at the Division-I level, Ludwig said.
"It's a whole other caliber of athlete they'll be matched up against," he said. "That's why I have to look and say, `ok I can't make Isaiah Thomas (5-foot-8-inches) any taller,' but what we can do is make him harder, stronger and faster so he can withstand the pounding he's going to take."
After sizing them up, Ludwig and his staff begin teaching the players the movements they'll perform regularly with body weights, sticks and plastic PVC pipes. Over time, more and more weight is added.
"Compared to high school, it's a lot more lifting, a lot more speculation on how you're doing everything," freshman guard Suggs said. "They're making sure every lift is ideal."
Most of the first-year players who walk through Ludwig's doors are behind the curve. Not wanting to single anyone out, Ludwig said he has some concerns. Of the four freshmen, some need to get bigger. Some have to learn how maintain their body weight. Some need to improve their flexibility.
"If they all came in as perfect, there'd be no need for me," Ludwig said. "But that's the point ... to be able to assess these kids and say, `what are our strengths, what are our weaknesses and which are specific to each kid?' And we work on that all year."
As part of Fox Sports Net's recent season preview, sophomore guard Venoy Overton likened Ludwig's basketball workouts to the ones the football team performs.
Ludwig, who seemed less than tickled at Overton's lighthearted comments, said basketball is more physical than people think, and that players need to be prepared.
"At times, you might be like, `is that a pillow fight out there?'" he said. "The reality of it is, you're getting guys with broken noses, they're banged up, they're bleeding, they're cutting one another, so it's a physical game."
As part of the team's summer training and conditioning program, Ludwig focused on getting the players to try to change direction more efficiently, to increase agility and quickness as if they were playing football.
Suggs, a lanky 6-foot-6-inch, 190-pounder, said he feels stronger and quicker as a result of the program. On the court, it's allowed him to sustain more hits.
Despite having five years of high school experience under his belt, Thomas said he's a lot stronger than he was last year.
"You have to be physically strong and mentally strong to play college basketball," he said.
During an average week, players spend about 20 hours weight training and practicing, not including the time spent on extra shooting. Compounded over multiple months within the year, the players often feel drained, and that's the hardest adjustment from high school, Ludwig said, stressing the importance of good nutrition.
"These guys expend anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 calories a day," UW sports dietician Emily Edison said. "Most people go `that's so much,' but that's how much they burn."
Edison, who speaks to the men's basketball team three or four times per year, said being away from home for the first time poses the biggest nutritional challenge.
To combat fatigue and stress fractures, which are common in athletes who aren't aware of their nutrition, Edison urges players to eat enough and discourages them from consuming food high in fat before or after playing because it inhibits performance and the body's ability to absorb carbohydrates.
Turner, a first-team all-state selection his senior season in high school, said his diet hasn't changed since he arrived on campus last summer. He still eats a lot of pasta and chicken.
As for his strength, Turner said his time in the weight room is paying off.
"I was 199 (pounds) coming in here," he said. "Now I'm around 205, 206. And I'm trying to get to about 210. I can tell it's been working."
Others have also expressed gratitude for Ludwig's work.
Junior forward Quincy Pondexter, whose rebounding numbers early on continue to surprise all -- himself included -- recently told reporters Ludwig helped him gain 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason.
Laura McLellan, a junior forward/center on the women's team, told the Seattle P-I that Ludwig's emphasis on speed is the reason for her being in great shape this season. She's averaging 12 points and five rebounds per game, versus just 4.2 points and 2.1 rebounds last year.
"He got us a lot stronger, a lot faster and quicker," McLellan told the P-I. "Anything we do is real quick and explosive."
Asked how it feels to get so much recognition from the players he works with, Ludwig, leaning back in his chair, deflected the praise back to his athletes. He said he comes to work every day, excited for the opportunity to train young athletes to become better than when they first arrived.
"When they achieve that, to see the excitement that individual kid has with that sense of accomplishment is what makes me so proud," he said. "Because I sit back and say `I made a difference.'"