A former college cornerback with a square jaw and buzz cut, Tarp is in his second season as Maryland’s director of basketball performance, and the best evidence of his effect on the team is taped to his office window. The “before” shots of seven Terrapins look normal; most of the “afters” appear Photoshopped. In three months, swingman Jake Layman went from beanstalk to buff. Guard Seth Allen’s back now resembles a cracked desert. Bulging veins have stretched guard Nick Faust’s tattoos.
The pictures increase the players’ confidence, but Tarp is more concerned with how his unique, basketball-tailored program translates to the court rather than any physical transformation. And each day, as he maps caloric intakes or body-fat percentages, he ponders the overarching question:
“Will it help the athlete achieve and accomplish what Coach Turgeon wants?”
After graduating from UC Davis in 2006 with a degree in exercise biology, Tarp worked in the private fitness sector until graduate school at the University of Texas. In Austin, he studied under Todd Wright, college basketball’s first sport-specific strength coach, learning a nontraditional approach that emphasizes movement and fluidity over brute strength.
During his freshman season at Xavier, Dez Wells said he “lifted like football players.” But at Maryland, each exercise serves a basketball-specific purpose. There are no bench presses or hang-cleans meant solely to build brute strength. Instead, players jump with basketballs hooked to air-resistance machines to hone vertical explosiveness, and dribble medicine balls beneath low-hanging ropes to enhance lateral agility.
After practices, Tarp solicits intensity ratings from the players on a 1-to-10 scale and adjusts the ensuing weightlifting session accordingly. He’s the first strength coordinator Turgeon has ever seriously asked, “How do you think their legs are doing?” The better Tarp understands Turgeon’s system, the more effective his workouts will be.
“I think what Kyle has is common sense,” Turgeon said. “In the offseason, he goes full-bore. I tell him what I want. This kid has to do this, gain weight, lose weight, have a stronger base, his foot speed is slow. We sit down and talk about each kid, then he might see something I don’t see.”
One hour into an interview, Tarp hasn’t even mentioned weights. Instead he’s raving about Maryland’s recovery options. Tarp once learned than athletes recover faster when they pick the mode. Power of the mind, he says. James Padgett, for instance, gravitates toward hot-cold therapy. Len likes ice baths and temperature contrast. Others soothe muscles with air-filled compression pants that look like hockey pads.