- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2008

Braxton Dupree ran a little late to a recent interview session. Quite possibly because he was running.

The sophomore forward finally arrived, sweat dripping from his forehead, cheeks and chin onto a white workout shirt after ducking out of a weight room session, looking very much the part of a player who reshaped himself in the offseason.

There’s less of Dupree to fit onto his 6-foot-8 frame than a year ago, but he still will fill a large role for Maryland when it begins practice tonight at Comcast Center. The baby fat is gone, and so is the player whose spot in the rotation gradually evaporated as he put on more weight during the season, eventually ballooning beyond 280 pounds.

In its place is a dramatically slimmer Dupree, who at 264 pounds is far better equipped to play at a frenetic pace than he was last winter.

“I feel so much different running,” Dupree said. “I can run sprints faster. Last year, I was the only guy on the team who couldn’t make the suicide [drill] on time. This year, I’m up there with the people winning the suicide.”

It was an unthinkable prospect just a few months ago. Dupree admits he believed he didn’t need to invest any more time than the daily toiling at practice. After a strong start to the season - including back-to-back double-digit games and a spot in the starting lineup - his thinking was understandable.

It didn’t last. Dupree quickly lost court time after Christmas. He didn’t play in six of the Terps’ conference games or the ACC tournament, his poor conditioning and unpolished game threatening to scuttle his hopes of an impressive debut.

Dupree finally went from a milk carton to the court in the NIT, earning a substantial bench role in the Terps’ two postseason games. But there was still disappointment - enough for some to question Dupree’s future in the program.

Much as he did throughout last season, coach Gary Williams bristled at criticism of Dupree. Big men often take time to develop, he argued, and the Baltimore native could follow a well-tested path at Maryland.

Obinna Ekezie started for half a season as a freshman, then doubled his scoring the next year after dropping 30 pounds. Lonny Baxter lost 20 pounds after his first year and averaged more than 15 points as a sophomore. Chris Wilcox’s scoring average more than tripled in the Terps’ national title season.

“To say a guy can’t play after one year, it’s not fair to the player,” Williams said. “You have to give those guys a chance. They have to get a chance, and they’ll get their chance.”

Ekezie and Baxter, though, finished their freshman seasons as starters, while Dupree was barely heard from in the final month.

“My year was just so up and down,” Dupree said. “Coach did everything he told me he’d do. He gave me an opportunity to play right away. When I wasn’t doing anything, as expected I wouldn’t be playing. I wasn’t in good shape last year. It was a lot of stress for me because I wanted to get there but I wasn’t making the progress physically or on the court.”

It changed after a summer with Paul Ricci, the Terps’ new strength and conditioning coach. Ricci instituted a program of long workouts, and Dupree said he often went from treadmill work to weightlifting to running the stairs outside of Comcast Center during the two-hour sessions.

Ricci quickly found Dupree eager to achieve consistency in several areas, and the fat melted off the forward as the summer progressed. A little encouragement from forward Landon Milbourne didn’t hurt.

The junior understood the struggle of coping with minimal court time while adapting to college. Milbourne endured that his first season, then emerged as a starter a year ago.

“I definitely could tell. It’s definitely hard coming in as a freshman,” Milbourne said.

“You think you’re good enough to start, and you don’t play that much at all. It’s real hard going through it. I tell him that as much as I can, and especially last year I told all him I knew.”

Dupree could follow a similar career arc. James Gist and Bambale Osby, who manned the interior for Maryland a year ago, both graduated. Even if the Terps deploy a four-guard set, they still will need someone to provide an inside presence.

And that could be Dupree, who has a chance to show less is more.

“Basically, the 280 Braxton had a lot more cushion on him,” forward Jerome Burney said. “The 260 Braxton, I feel more bone and meat on me. I had to have a recovery with my sternum because it’s been beat up so much. He’s definitely a lot faster, a lot stronger, a lot quicker and has more endurance. All that contributes to a better Braxton.”



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