The end justifies the means

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It starts with Maryland's basketball players standing on opposite sidelines, crossing one foot over the other and rocking back and forth to stretch their feet and ankles.

Next comes a series of choreographed forays across the width of the court and back, in which the Terps move like dancers in a Thriller video - skipping, high-step jogging, crab-walking sideways. That's followed by a sequence inspired by yoga's Warrior Pose in which players adopt a stance resembling a runner frozen mid-stride, then touch the floor, reach skyward, twist at the waist and repeat.

Maryland's eight-and-a-half minute, pregame stretching routine - conducted while most opponents shoot lay-up after lay-up at the opposite end of the court - is called "Movement Preparation." And it's designed to get the Terps' muscles ready for the full range of explosive movements demanded by the 40 minutes of competition to come.

It's just one aspect of the men's basketball team's strength and conditioning program that's unlike that of most other colleges in that it blends concepts from professional football and baseball regimens, as well as yoga - all with the goal of improving players' mobility, stamina and confidence.

The program was developed by a former Penn State offensive lineman, Paul Ricci, who spent nine seasons training the Baltimore Ravens for the rigors of the NFL before joining the Terps.

Though it's tricky to draw a direct link between gym workouts and on-court results, the Terps have had just one missed game and one missed practice by a starter in two-and-a-half years. And players, to a man, say they're in the best shape of their lives.

"We are stronger," says Coach Gary Williams. "And we are quicker."

Sophomore center Jordan Williams is a case in point.

As a standout at Torrington (Conn.) High School two years ago, the big center was viewed by most recruiting gurus as more of a project than a blue-chip prospect - a late-bloomer wrapped in a bit too much baby fat. "Runs the floor reasonably well," declared ESPN's 2008 Player Evaluation. But "needs to continue to improve his footwork and post moves . . . [and] continue to improve his body."

Since joining the Terps, Williams has shed more than 20 pounds, pared his body fat from 19.5 percent to 12 percent and seen his performance and stamina soar.

In the Terps' last game, the Dec. 12 loss to Boston College, Williams delivered his ninth double-double of what is proving a remarkable statistical season, looking every bit a contender for college basketball's Naismith and Wooden awards. Moreover, he played a career-high 38 minutes - unfathomable as recently as last spring, when Williams got winded banging bodies with the ACC's big men after just 25 minutes.

"He has changed my whole physique," the sophomore center says of Ricci. "It's like night and day from when I came in here. I give him a lot of credit."

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