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October 1, 2009Stephen Spinella still seemed surprised, looking down at the biceps that had erupted on his arms.
"I'm getting a lot stronger, a lot quicker, a lot faster," Spinella said on Wednesday. "I'm just like a completely different body than I have been in high school and prep school."
Always a stringbean shooter, Spinella on the fast break used to look like a windmill of pale arms and legs. He never did much conditioning because he didn't have to - he was in shape enough to play high-school ball and he was a high-school ballplayer.
This ain't high school.
"Completely different from high school," Spinella agreed. "I never lifted weights before in my life."
South Carolina's four rookie basketball players have gotten a crash course in coach Darrin Horn's offseason workout program since they arrived in Columbia. The 6 a.m. runs and constant weightlifting sessions were introduced early and often to Spinella and the other three, and the assessment was the same across the board.
Painful but necessary.
"They really opened my eyes," forward Lakeem Jackson said. "He told me coming in it wasn't going to be easy. It's been tough, but I've been working with it."
The process is meant for two objectives. One, get players ready for the SEC and Division-I basketball in general. The greater majority of D-I recruits simply don't play against the kind of physicality night-in and night-out that they're going to face at the next level.
Two, Horn's system features constant running. Getting to the ball on defense, switching the man to control the ball-carrier, out-running the defense down the court for an easy deuce is what the entire plan is based on.
In short, constant motion and constant energy. None of the four newcomers are about to question an approach that got Western Kentucky to the Sweet 16 and took USC to 21 wins in his only year there.
"It was a little tough, because at JUCO, we lifted probably twice a week," said Johndre Jefferson, who transferred from Northwest Florida State College. "Here, we're lifting three or four times a week. It's going to benefit me in the long run, but the first week, I was barely moving."
Horn credited each of the four in how well they've gotten acclimated to the process. It hasn't been easy for them, but with the upperclassmen showing the way, they've gotten to it.
Official team practice can begin at midnight on Oct. 16. Until then, it's the standard of running, lifting, working in small groups and the always-constant going to class and study hall to keep the team's impressive grade-point average rising.
"You help us win, you're going to play," Horn said, discussing the impact of the four. "We don't care what year you are, how much you have played. We're going to give them that opportunity for sure."
As long as they continue to adjust to, then flourish in, the demands placed on them by the strength staff.
"In high school, I had a demanding coach, too, that was just like coach Horn," guard Ramon Galloway said. "But the pace coach Horn has is way tougher than high school. You've really got to listen. I never expected it from coach Horn. Coach Horn's a nice guy, smiles a lot, but when it comes down to conditioning, he does his job."