And then there was Alex Len.
When Len signed with Maryland in August 2011, he brought a lanky, bony frame over from Ukraine. Len was unpolished and weak, but Turgeon saw a body ready to explode. After Len’s freshman season, Turgeon told everyone within earshot that Len would either quit or get tougher.
Thanks to Tarp’s design, Len now weighs 255 pounds, up from 219 upon arrival in College Park. He ate chargrilled chicken sandwiches and drank protein shakes, taking in more than 6,000 calories per day. Tarp once discovered Len had a low iron intake, so he added steak to Len’s burrito-bowl order. Problem solved.
And whenever Len’s workouts lacked intensity, Tarp name-dropped college basketball’s top big men. Indiana’s Cody Zeller? Duke’s Mason Plumlee? “You have to outwork those guys.” During a particular preseason bicycle workout, Tarp set a standard: 120 pedal strokes in 20 seconds. Len hit 170, walked away and vomited into a nearby trash can. Then he remounted and hit 180.
“You have to keep pushing to the point where you can’t do it anymore,” said Len, who leads the team in points (13.9 per game), rebounds (8.8) and blocks (2.6).
Over the summer, Tarp required the players to send him photos of every meal, and sometimes performed surprise inspections. Once, he tried to catch Cleare and Mitchell in a dining hall with a pizza and fries. Instead, he found salad and hard-boiled eggs.
“Kyle has been a tremendous part of my life,” said Cleare, who eliminated fried foods and sodas this summer. “He brought me down to where I needed to be. I feel like I’m in much better shape, I’m stronger, put on muscle mass and got rid of body fat. It’s a big part of why my game’s improved a lot. You put bad food in your body, your body’s going to work bad. Put good food in, it’ll work well.”
Len crouched in a power stance during a filmed workout. His eyes locked ahead in a predator’s stare, he gripped a white rope, 50 pounds in weight and 10 feet in length. To his left, Cleare did the same.
The players whipped the rope up and down with two hands, like a heartbeat’s readout in fast forward. This drill, which trains holding a defensive stance relative to external agitation, is one aspect of Tarp’s cross-training conditioning, which also includes sled pushes and a “Force” treadmill powered only by human exertion.
The intensity tones down during the season, when lifts are geared more toward maintenance than strength-building. But Cleare and Len still battle daily, sending the other hurtling with body checks and stiff forearms, making themselves basketball tough.
That afternoon, Tarp called in Maryland’s academic adviser and two women’s basketball players to judge Len and Cleare based solely on effort. After a brief huddle, they declared Cleare the winner.
Shoulders throbbing and back aching, Len kneeled below a mirror to pump out his punishment: 40 push-ups. Nearby, two other Terrapins gripped the ropes while Tarp looked on. It’s time to go again.