With the basketball season upon us, and in light of some increased interest in the program due to the addition of new coach Herb Sendek, ASUDevils.com recently interviewed Rich Wenner, Head Strength Coach for Olympic Sports at Arizona State, specifically on this portion of his role at the University.
Generally speak, Wenner's job is to help get the ASU players in the best shape that they possibly can be, and keep them physically sound, with bodies that stay injury-free and perform at a high level throughout the season.
"I think the weight room is a huge part of basketball," Wenner said. "And it's not always so much about numbers. It's about guys working hard and being disciplined and learning how to exert themselves in a different way that may help them out as an athlete. In a 200 pound rep out set (where a player does as many repetitions as he can) a guy thinks he's going to get six and he ends up getting eight, nine, or 10 and he gets a lot of confidence out of strength training.
"And then there is the whole issue of injury prevention. Right now we have no muscular/skeletal type injuries where people are sitting out. The weight room has evolved so much the last five years in basketball. Years ago it was something you just did in the off-season and now it's a big part of the sport year-round."
But it's a lot more than just performing in the weight room. Wenner leads the players through all warm-up exercises on the court at the beginning of each practice and he's largely responsible for the overall fitness and conditioning of the athletes.
As an example, all of the Sun Devils were asked to be able to run a mile in under a set time of five and a half minutes for guards and six minutes for the others. Freshman Christian Polk turned in a 5:19 mile; classmate George Odufuwa covered the distance in 5:42; sophomore Jeff Pendergraph clocked a 5:47 mile; senior Serge Angounou managed a time of 5:53.
With a new basketball staff comes a clean slate and perhaps a fresher approach to work ethic and a sense of needing or wanting to make a positive impression. It could be the reason all of the players managed to meet their mile-run expectations as set by the program, and also why at least some of the players believe they're in better shape physically to begin the season.
"I think we're ahead of the game now compared to where we were last year," sophomore Sylvester Seay said. "Last year, first couple practices we had no legs. This year we're in much better shape. We're ready to go every day in practice so we're winning right now."
Sendek wanted some of his players to change the composition of their bodies a little bit, and with Seay and others, specifically senior guard Antwi Atuahene and freshman guard Jerren Shipp, there is a noticeable difference in how lean their bodies are.
Athahene and Shipp have dropped weight, while Seay has replaced bad weight with muscle.
"I move a lot faster, jump a lot higher and I'm a lot more in shape. We had to give up Outback (Steakhouse) and Training Table and that hurt," Seay said.
Perhaps, but it's a sacrifice that could pay dividends down the road.
"The staff has been great to work with," Wenner said. "Very supportive of sports performance area, which is so much more than lifting and running. They have great expectations. The players each have a target body fat. We want them as strong as they can be, while maintaining their flexibility.
"It's really a well-rounded package. It's not just brute strength but maybe carrying some extra body fat, or really trimmed down but then not having enough strength. It's about building the best basketball body, which is lean but strong."
Wenner is allowed to work with the players on a voluntary basis during the off-season for up to eight hours each week, with that time being maximized by most players on the roster through the summer and into the fall semester.
"One thing we try to do is evaluate on a daily basis. We do have our core program for basketball but then on a daily basis we do have adjustments based on what each player needs," Wenner said. "Like for example we do things like measure bar speeds so we get not only the precise weight on the bar but we make sure it's being lifted at the right speed. I can just throw out a percent, like if you're lifting at 70 percent, one guy might need 80 percent and another guy might need 55 percent to have the right bar speed. So that's really how we individualize it.
"On other things we do, maybe it's a shoulder press, maybe it's a single leg squat that we wouldn't measure bar speed, we could reps and each time we life try to achieve more reps and see what they plateau off at over two or three weeks and then go from there."
Four players on the team -- Angounou, Allen Morill, Bruno Claudino and Robby Alridge -- are all capable of benchpressing over 300 pounds. Angounou has added over 115 pounds to his bench press since he arrived at ASU.
It's no surprise that all of the players that can benchpress over 300 pounds are seniors, as they have more mature bodies and have spent more time in the program, with the exception of Claudino. Wenner said that most players make their biggest strides in the strength and conditioning program in their first and/or second year with the program.
Pendergraph has seen big gains in his first full year in Tempe, for example. He's added 30 pounds of muscle, up to 230 pounds from just shy of the 200 pound mark when he arrived on campus, and he's still extremely lean. He's added 95 pounds to his benchpress, a huge number to be sure.
Even though Pendergraph said on Media Day that he still doesn't feel as though he's 100 percent back to normal after the removal of benign tumor in his knee last year, he certainly looks to be much further along physically than he was last season.
"His strength is there," Wenner said. "He was able to squat 315 pounds a few weeks ago. A year ago as a freshman he didn't even train his legs. So I think his leg strength has definitely come a long way and speed is outstanding right now. He probably doesn't feel it but when you watch him run he can just fly down the floor. He had a great year of training, but I think he looks good and he's going to get even better.
"But he's jumping well. He's getting off the floor quicker. He's running smoother. He's got his glide back."
If Pendergraph indeed is jumping off the floor quicker, Wenner would know. All players are measured extensively with regard to their vertical jump, in five categories, and even the amount of floor contact they have when jumping.
"We've really tried to evaluate and measure things to really get it precisely right for each player," he said. "One guy can jump off a 20 inch box and be quick off the ground and another guy might be a 12 inch box. You stand and watch it and it's hard to tell the difference between .20 off the ground and .18 off the ground. It all looks the same but there really is a difference in ground contact time and we've been able to measure things like that."
The five vertical jumps measured by Wenner are as follows:
- A standing two foot jump. There are no steps taken by the player prior to this jump. Some of the team's best performers in this measurement are Seay at 30.5 inches, Alridge at 30 inches and Odufuwa at 29.5 inches.
- A jump from out of a squatting/rebounding position. In this measurement, players hold squat/rebounding level position for three seconds in order to dissipate elasticity in their legs, then they jump. Players should have a higher standing two foot jump than a jump from this squat position. Those that jump the same or higher in this measurement than in a standing jump are strength jumpers.
- A 12 inch box jump, where a player steps off the box, drops to the floor and then jumps. Players should go up higher than their standing vertical. Those that do jump higher typically know how to use their stretch reflex. Those that do not jump higher tend to need more biometric type training.
- A standing one-leg vertical jump.
- An approach vertical, where players start at about the free throw line and take several steps before exploding off of either one or two feet. This jump best translates to basketball function, which is very telling. It's also the measurement where players have the highest vertical jumps. Odufuwa has a 38.5 inch approach vertical; Alridge is 37 inches; Shipp is 34 inches; Atuahene is 33.5 inches; polk is also 33.5 inches.
"We will measure them after the season and then we'll measure them before school gets out" in the spring semester, according to Wenner. "It's a close time period but we see how we did at the end of the season and [how well we maintained] our power and explosiveness. We test them again when school gets out, which is like a five week period. So that is a baseline for training, and then we test again when school begins and then again a week before the actual start of practice."
One player that figures to see some impressive improvement in his first year of testing in the program is Eric Boateng, a 6-foot-10, 248 pound sophomore who is sitting out the season after transferring from Duke.
"Eric is going to be a fun project," Wenner said. "Obviously we have a year before he can play and he's so focused and so attentive to detail. He's very driven and wants to be strong and muscular. He loves to train. I think it's going to be a lot of fun and next year at this time he'll have a different body than what you see now."
With Boateng entering into the mix in 2007 and four true freshmen expected to see extensive playing time this season, the role that Wenner will play in physically developing these players for the future is vitally important to the overall success of the program.
"Basketball is so individual that everyone is looked at separately," Wenner said. "If a guy comes in and benches 120 pounds and two months later benches 185 that's a huge improvement but compared to someone else that might be nothing.
"I mean you've got Eric Boateng's reach compared to Antwi's reach on bench or powerclean or squat, he's going about maybe two-thirds the distance (on some lifts). There's such a wide range of bodies and wingspans and heights that it would be tough to compare them to each other versus how much a guy has really improved at what he needs to improve. There's just a lot to it."
Considering Wenner is regarded as one of the most esteemed strength coaches in the country, it's probably safe to assume he's up to the task.
Rich Wenner is Head Strength Coach for Olympic Sports at Arizona State. In 2005 he was selected as one of 32 strength coaches worldwide to be inducted into the National Strength and Conditioning Association's (NSCA) Coach Practitioner Distinction Program, a new distinction in the industry.
In recent years, Wenner has competed in the Master Division (competitors aged 40-44) of the USA Powerlifting Nationals, finishing fourth overall in 2005 in the 220 pound weight class. He had a squat of 606 pounds, a benchpress of 463 pounds, and a deadlift of 628 pounds, for a combined total of 1698 pounds in the three categories.
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