Note: This story appears in the Friday, Nov. 7 newspaper on Page B1.
Nate Springs avoided the ‘Freshman 15’ that often accompanies first-year students when they spend that first year away from home at college.
That was not intended.
Springs, a long-limbed 6-foot-10 inches, needed those 15 pounds — and much more — as a skinny basketball player looking carve out a niche on the Ohio University men’s basketball team. But hunger, in both a literal and figurative sense, is a tool that Springs has developed in his pursuit of making an impact for the Bobcats this winter.
Springs’ weight, and the strength and sturdiness that would increase with more of it, has been the top topic in collegiate basketball journey. And finally, over the last eight months or so, he’s making progress.
“When I got here, I was about 175 pounds,” Springs explained in October. “The highest I got up to this summer was about 208.
“That’s about 30-plus on me just by the spring and the summer. We’re getting there.”
Springs, signed to OU by previous head coach Saul Phillips, was destined for a redshirt season last year. He understood that, and was comfortable with the long-term plan at first.
But as his first year drug on, progress was nearly non-existent. He couldn’t get weight to stick. The Bobcats were losing games, the season was dragging on.
But Springs’ development was jump-started after the Bobcats’ coaching change last March. There was now a plan of attack, and he was on board.
“I got with (strength) Coach (Jared) Azar in the off-season. We attacked the spring and then the summer,” Springs said. “Going from one coach to a new coach, it was different. But my work ethic has picked up because they’re here now.”
And the early signs have been good. Springs had nine points of the bench in 12 minutes, and Ohio (1-0) won at St. Bonaventure in the season opener on Tuesday. Until further notice, Springs is in line for major minutes off the bench for OU, and should be on the floor for Ohio’s home opener on Saturday at 1 p.m. in the Convo against Division III Heidelberg.
Despite his height, and length, Springs will be slotted in at a forward position. It suits his skillset better, said Ohio first-year head coach Jeff Boals. There will be some minutes perhaps as the third center, but Springs will play most often as the backup to sophomore wing/forward Ben Vander Plas. Springs’ three 3-pointers weren’t completely unexpected the other night.
“He’s not a post player,” Boals said. “He’s comfortable on the perimeter.
“His best attribute is his shot-making ability, including the 3, and then his length and his athleticism,” the coach continued. “His shot-making ability is big for us.”
Given his body type and his metabolism, Springs was presented with certain truths in the off-season by Azar. In short, Springs might never be able to bulk up and be a Zach Randolph type — able to muscle people out of the way inside with strength and girth. But he could be smooth, and explosive, and play a Kevin Durant type of game instead.
“(Azar) would tell me ‘You’re never going to be like a huge guy so we got to put on weight you can maintain and you can be on the court and play at,’” Springs said. “That clicked with me.”
So Springs began to eat. He needed to eat when he wasn’t hungry. He needed to eat seemingly all the time. He needed to eat so he could train and develop his stomach. Yes, really.
That meant protein shakes before and after lifting sessions. That meant Azar plotting out ways to pack more calories into his day. That mean adding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches has a regular to his regimen despite whatever else he had just eaten.
“I got frustrated because I would eat a lot, and I wouldn’t feel good,” Springs said. “But you have to keep doing it. You have to keep eating to get to the weight you want to be at, not what weight you are at that momentum.
“You have to eat more so your stomach can expand and allow you to eat even more and gain that weight.”
It’s working. Springs began the current season at 205 pounds. He’s shown a springiness that was evident last fall. Athletically, he’s on par with anyone on the roster.
And with four injuries robbing the Bobcats of early-season depth, OU needs him right now.
“You want him to play with a reckless, fearless abandon at times, and just let him go and use his athleticism,” Boals said. “He doesn’t realize yet he’s like the most athletic guy on the court.”
But Springs does realize his college career is really just beginning. His best days as a player are still ahead of him. He’s up for whatever role Ohio needs him to fill this season.
He’s, well, hungry.
“I have to go out there and show what I can do,” Springs said. “I’ve talked to my mom about it.
“‘Everybody has a season where they break through, and it’s your season.’
“A lot of our team is like that,” he added. “We’ll show what we’ve been working on and how hard we’ve been working. The rest will be history.”