When it comes to sizing up UCLA basketball players, there's no one quite like Wes Long.
In his early summer assessments, the Bruins' athletic performance coach saw a Brendan Lane who needed to beef up, a Joshua Smith who needed to slim down and a Tyler Lamb who also needed to drop weight to compete at the major-college level.
So Long took the Bruins out on the football field, where they flipped giant tires and swung heavy ropes until their shoulders ached. Then they ran, ran, ran.
If their new physiques are any indication, the Bruins appear ready to make a run at something better than last season's 14-18 record. Lane has added 20 pounds of muscle, Smith has dropped 50 pounds of fat and Lamb no longer looks a little doughy.
They weren't the only players to make improvements. Reeves Nelson lowered his body fat from 9% to 5%, Tyler Honeycutt became what Long described as "wiry strong" and Malcolm Lee retained his unofficial title as the pound-for-pound strongest player on the team.
"We had a really good off-season as a whole," said Long, who is in his fourth year at UCLA.
Smith had the most rigorous regimen, working out two or three times a day depending on his class schedule. He would ride a bike for 45 minutes in the morning and then perform defensive slides and medicine ball throws to get his heart pumping in the afternoon. On days he completed a third workout, Smith would again ride the bike or run sprints on a treadmill.
The workouts took a heavy toll on the Bruins' biggest player.
"I don't think he was quite ready for how much work he had to put in," Long said. "There was a week or so where he was kind of bummed out with how hard it was going to be, but after that he bought in and saw how important it was."
Smith credited Long for the bulk of his weight loss, saying his conditioning was a bigger factor than his improved eating habits.
"The key was being dedicated and saying, 'Nobody's going to feel sorry for me. I have to do this on my own,'" said Smith, a 6-foot-10 freshman who is listed at 305 pounds. " 'There's nothing my mom can do, my dad can do, the coaches can do. It's on me to go out there and go with Wes, do what he tells me.'"
At the request of Coach Ben Howland, the Bruins worked on conditioning more than in recent years, Long said. Taking players onto the football field was a way to break the monotony of continuous workouts in the weight room.
Long said players often exhibit the biggest physical improvements during the summer between their freshman and sophomore years. Sophomores Lane and Nelson both made big strides, even though Lane's lower-body workouts were limited early in the summer as he recovered from ankle surgery.
Nelson is moving more swiftly as a result of his drop in body fat, Long said, even though he wasn't overweight by any means before this summer. Long has watched the Bruins' early practices to monitor their movements and make sure they are performing at an optimal level as far as their conditioning.
"The practices have been intense and the guys have been moving hard," Long said.
Tickets on sale
Tickets for UCLA's game against Brigham Young in the Wooden Classic on Dec. 18 at the Honda Center went on sale Saturday. They can be purchased online at ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000.