Biggest Offseason Transformations in College Basketball Ahead of 2014-15 Season
Death, taxes and reports of college basketball players getting into the best shape of their lives over the summer.
There aren't many things in this world we can count on, but those are three of the big ones.
See for yourself. Pick virtually any noteworthy team in the country, do enough searching around the Internet, and you'll inevitably find a story or 20 about a player poised for a huge season because he either gained or lost a bunch of weight and added something to his offensive arsenal.
If the stories aren't there yet, they sure will be by mid-October.
You certainly can't believe every story you read, but these are the eight players with offseason transformations that should have the biggest impact on the 2014-15 college basketball landscape.
Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina
By the time he arrived at Chapel Hill, he was tipping the scales at 317 pounds—and it pretty clearly impacted his playing time. Meeks got down to 290 by the time the season began, but he just didn't have great conditioning.
Through the team's first 17 games, he logged more than 20 minutes just once. Over the course of the full season, he accomplished the feat just seven times.
It certainly wasn't for lack of opportunity or because there were better options on the roster. Meeks ended up starting 50 percent of North Carolina's games last season. He just couldn't stay on the court for more than a few minutes before needing a break.
He told the media, per Greg Barnes of Inside Carolina (h/t Brian Barbour of Tar Heel Blog), that he has worked hard over the past several months to get his weight back down to 270 and already looks more athletic than he did at any point during the 2013-14 season.
With James Michael McAdoo no longer on the roster, Meeks should get all the minutes he can handle. And the good news for North Carolina is that he appears ready to handle significantly more minutes than last year.
BeeJay Anya, North Carolina State
Like his in-state counterpart from the previous slide, BeeJay Anya ballooned after originally weighing in at 270 pounds on high school scouting reports as a senior.
According to Stephen Schramm of The Fayetteville Observer, Anya reported to campus last summer at 337 pounds. He got down closer to an even 300 throughout the course of the season, but the big man still desperately needed to shed some pounds in order to survive what should be an increased workload this year.
According to Raphielle Johnson of NBCSports.com, Anya stated in early August that he has dropped 56 pounds. She doesn't specify whether that's from his starting weight last summer or where he was at the end of last season, but still, 56 pounds is pretty incredible. At most, he's looking at 281 on the scales, which is absolutely a playable weight for a 6'9" center.
Despite playing less than 12 minutes per game last season, Anya led the Wolfpack in blocked shots, averaging 4.7 rejections per 40 minutes.
And that was back before he could really run the court or fight gravity well enough to be an elite shot-blocker.
North Carolina State only had one graduating senior this past season, but he was a pretty important one as far as Anya is concerned. With 7'1" starting center Jordan Vandenberg out of years of eligibility, Anya may become a starter and will definitely see an increase in minutes—provided he now has the endurance to play them.
Mark Donnal, Michigan
Unlike the last two players on the list, Mark Donnal's problem was that he didn't have enough weight.
When Michigan first signed the 6'9" forward, he weighed just 215 pounds. But according to a report by Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com back in late March, he had already beefed up to about 245 pounds while redshirting as a freshman.
And that's a report from five months ago. There's a pretty good chance he has gotten even stronger since then while enduring rigorous summer workouts.
According to another MLive.com report—this one by Brendan Quinn—Donnal "held his own" against the likes of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford all last season. This is great news for Wolverines fans since neither of those players, nor Mitch McGary, will be on the court anymore.
Ready or not, Donnal will likely be starting at the 5 for Michigan for the entire 2014-15 season. Thanks to 18 months of conditioning and lifting, he should be up to the challenge.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona
ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil seems to think that freshman Stanley Johnson is going to be Arizona's go-to scorer this season, but my money is on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson filling that role for the Wildcats.
According to Anthony Gimino of Fox Sports Arizona, Hollis-Jefferson has added 15 pounds in the past year and has dedicated this summer to becoming a more reliable shooter.
Raw athleticism was never even remotely an issue for Hollis-Jefferson. He was already a great rebounder and dunker as well as a plus defender. But he was too small to start at power forward and not good enough at throwing the ball into the basket to play small forward or shooting guard.
Basically, he was the complete opposite of a stretch 4.
Now, Hollis-Jefferson will feature the best of both worlds. He'll have the strength to finish more plays at the rim and the talent to convert on more opportunities away from the rim.
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
The equivalent of a rich man winning the lottery, Sam Dekker grew two inches this summer and has focused on getting stronger during the offseason.
Dekker shot 39.1 percent from three-point range as a freshman but regressed to 32.6 percent this past season—thanks in large part to a significant increase in playing time (from 22.3 MPG to 29.8 MPG) and more of a focus on rebounding (3.4 RPG as a freshman; 6.1 RPG as a sophomore.)
In theory, the added height and strength will do wonders for his game.
Dekker was playing like a stretch 4—particularly when sharing the court with starters Traevon Jackson (6'2"), Ben Brust (6'1") and Josh Gasser (6'3")—even though he was built (6'7", 220 pounds) like a small forward at best.
This season, he'll have the build of a stretch 4 but will be spending a good amount of time at small forward with Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes in the post.
It should be a huge season for Dekker and the Badgers alike.
Elbert Robinson, LSU
Of the 49 incoming centers evaluated by 247Sports, 48 were listed at 285 pounds or lighter.
And then there's Elbert Robinson.
LSU's big man of the future was listed at a whopping 7'0", 322 pounds. He can't possibly be anywhere near as dominant as Shaquille O'Neal was, but Robinson is one of the few human beings who could reasonably fit into O'Neal's jersey.
But not nearly enough of that weight was muscle, causing him to slim down a lot since flirting with 330 pounds as a high school senior.
According to Randy Rosetta of NOLA.com, Robinson weighed 288 pounds in mid-July, and he is looking to get down to 275 before the season begins.
Who knows how much he'll actually play with Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin already occupying starting jobs in LSU's frontcourt, but let's just say that Kentucky won't be the only SEC team with a talented giant or three coming off the bench.
Chris Walker, Florida
Even before the "best shape of his life" hype starting making its rounds on the Internet, there was good reason to be optimistic for a huge season from Chris Walker.
247Sports rated Walker as the seventh-best player in the entire 2013 class. Not a single player in its top 15 ended up being a dud. Walker missed all but 87 minutes of the 2013-14 season, but not because of injuries or ineffectiveness.
But now, "SkyWalker" is eligible to play and looks like a certified monster.
I haven't seen any reports of exactly how much muscle he has gained from what appears to have been an entire summer spent camping in the weight room, but he's certainly not the 210-pound string bean who arrived in Gainesville last year.
Georges Niang, Iowa State
Perhaps the most talked-about transformation of the entire offseason, Georges Niang's before and after photo went viral a month ago.
Niang certainly didn't play like he was out of shape last year. He averaged 16.7 PPG and logged just over 30 minutes per contest.
But incredibly, he only ranked third on the team in scoring last season and wasn't much of a rebounder (4.5 RPG). He was also one of the worst three-point shooters on the team (32.7 percent) despite shooting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc the previous year.
So what is he capable of now that he has the endurance and strength to make better use of his ample time on the court?
The man already averaged 13.8 field-goal attempts per game last season. Even though DeAndre Kane (12.0 FGA) and Melvin Ejim (12.8 FGA) graduated, it's unlikely he'll receive an increase in opportunities.
What he does with them, however, should be much improved from last year. Averaging 20 points and eight rebounds per game hardly feels like a stretch of the imagination for Niang.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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