Hoops: Freshmen getting results

Penn State's three freshmen had three different goals when they got to campus this summer. Brandon Taylor needed to get lighter. Donovon Jack needed to get bigger. Akosa Maduegbunam needed to get mentally stronger.

Forward Donovon Jack has already put on 10 pounds since coming to Penn State.

Brad Pantall had solutions for each of them.

The Nittany Lions' strength and conditioning coach has helped all three players achieve those goals and he and the players aren't done yet.

"Coach Brad, he's the best, in my eyes," Taylor said. "He's pushed me to levels where I didn't even know I could go, and I still have a lot of improvement, a lot of growth. Basically, until the season starts, he's going to be doing the same thing."

The 6-foot-8 Taylor, out of Trenton Catholic High School in Tabernacle, N.J., was 260 pounds when he got to campus. After several weeks of working with Pantall and drastically changing his eating habits -- grilled chicken, vegetables, skim milk and water are his current dietary staples -- Taylor checks in around 230 pounds and notices the difference on the court.

"I feel like I get up a lot higher," he said. "Before I could barely even dunk; I couldn't get off the floor. But now, I got a step. I feel a lot quicker on my feet. I'm making suicides and up and downs and doing all the things the coaches want me to do."

Jack, a 6-foot-9 forward from Berks Catholic in Reading, Pa., also watches what he eats -- except he has a lot more of it to watch. Eating five or six times a day, the slender left-hander has gone from 190 pounds to 200 and wants to reach 210 by the time the season starts.

Jack credits Pantall with helping him become stronger while battling for rebounds. He credits the easy availability of food for his modest but persistent weight gain.

"When I'm hungry, I can walk down to the cafeteria or the food store and get something," he said. "The biggest problem I had at home was I wasn't able to eat as much as I should."

Adjusting to campus life took some time for Jack.

"It was a little overwhelming for me at first," he said. "My first high school was 250 students at the school, then I merged into a Catholic school and got up to 700. Seven hundred to 40,000 is a big difference. I was a little overwhelmed at first in the summer, but now I'm getting used to it. And I love it so far."

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Maduegbunam, of Boston, didn't want or need to re-shape his body. He has been focusing on improving the mental part of his game, during conditioning drills as well as pickup games with the team's veterans. Guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill have helped greatly in that regard, Maduegbunam said.

"I look up to those guys on and off the court," he said. "See how they lead the team and they're great people personality-wise. On the court, they like to give me a good beatdown, but I'm never the one to quit. So I just keep taking shots at them while they put me in my place."

Getting "up to speed" has been a challenge for Maduegbunam in the Bryce Jordan Center and most everywhere else he goes on campus.

"For me, basketball is a metaphor for life," he said. "With me, basketball and life, the pace has just kind of picked up. Life is faster, basketball is faster. The classrooms are bigger. You have to go out of your way to meet your professors, and take the initiative and do things you wouldn't do out on the basketball court. Life has just picked up and organization is a big key for me."

All three players agreed that the hill runs and the sand-pit workouts the entire team has gone through have been the toughest part of their initiation. But they also realize what those veterans working alongside them already have -- the fatigue serves an important purpose.

"They're going to help you in the long run," Jack said. "We may not like it, but we understand that they're doing the right things for us and that the whole team's going to be much better for it."

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