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Sunday, October 08, 2006

Freshman Pierre Niles Told to Shed the Pounds

Too-big man joins Calipari's fit club
Niles' recipe for court time: Shed pounds

By Jim Masilak, Memphis Commercial Appeal

October 8, 2006

If Pierre Niles was looking forward to one thing upon his return to Memphis last spring, it was diving into some of his grandmother's home cooking.

After splitting his senior season between prep schools in Florida and North Carolina, the University of Memphis basketball signee and former Ridgeway star stepped off the plane dizzy with visions of spaghetti, chicken, greens, Rotel cheese dip and candied yams.

But before Niles could reach Earnestine Lee's home for that much-anticipated welcome-home dinner, the Tigers' freshman power forward-to-be learned that UofM coach John Calipari had changed the menu.

Listed at 6-8, Niles, with his barrel chest and massive arms and thighs, has always seemed more suited for the defensive line than the 3-point line.

But even Niles was shocked when, upon being plopped onto a scale at the Finch Center, he checked in at a scarcely credible 305 pounds.

"I was shocked. I didn't know I was 305," Niles said as the Tigers prepare for Friday night's official start of practice. "I looked at the scale and said, 'It can't be true.'"

Alas, it was. Though it no longer is.

Thanks to the workout regimen and diet implemented by UofM director of performance enhancement Richard Hogans, Niles -- who hit a high of 307 -- has lost 20 pounds.

But it hasn't been easy, and Niles must lose 10 more pounds to meet Calipari's mandate that he weigh no more than 275 when the Nov. 16 opener against Jackson State rolls around.

"I can't dress out at all unless I'm down to 275. If it comes from Cal, you've got to do it," Niles said. "Once I get in shape, nobody will be able to stop me. But first I've got to lose the weight."
That's the challenge.

Until he arrived at the UofM, Niles' five food groups admittedly consisted of "cheeseburgers, hot wings, pizza, Rotel dip and Grandma's home cooking."

After transferring from Ridgeway to Florida Prep in Lake Suzy before his senior season, Niles said he and his fellow basketball players were practically force fed -- not that he minded -- receiving at least four full meals per day.

When he moved on to The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C., joining up with fellow Tiger signee Hashim Bailey, a 6-10, 290-pound center/forward, the duo engaged in near-ritualistic late-night gorging sessions.

"We didn't know we had to watch our weight until we came here," Bailey said. "We couldn't eat anything the school was cooking -- it wasn't good food -- so we'd order something every night.
"We'd get pizza, McDonald's, whatever. We can't eat that no more."

While Bailey, who also ballooned to more than 300 pounds, has worked his way back to 285, he said Niles has had more trouble adhering to Hogans' plan.

"He didn't like it much," Bailey said. "He was like, 'I can't do it.' I was like, 'You've got to do it.' Coach Cal told us, 'If you don't make the weight, you don't play.'"

On at least one occasion, Bailey said, he had to plead with Niles not to submit to his fast-food urgings.

Call it a cheeseburger intervention.

"He went into a McDonald's and wanted to get some sandwiches," Bailey recalled. "I was like, 'No, you can't get that now.' He finally listened and said, 'Yeah you're right.'"

The most difficult part for Niles, by far, has been avoiding Lee's kitchen.

"I ain't been there in so long, I don't know what she's cookin' now," Niles said. "I try to stay away from her now because I know I'll get big if I go over there.

"I talk to her on the phone -- I talked to her last night -- and she knows I've got to get my weight down."

As does Hogans, whose job it is to make sure Niles makes his weight.

Despite his prodigious size and naturally powerful frame, the happy-go-lucky forward hadn't lifted weights since the ninth grade until hooking up with Hogans this summer.

"When I saw him I thought, This is gonna be a big task right here," said Hogans, a former UofM football player. "He didn't have any structure as far as weight training and nutrition was concerned. The hardest part was getting that instilled in him.

"But it's really not negotiable. We have to get him to 275."

Niles' workout regimen consists primarily of upper-body workouts -- bench presses, pull downs, situps, pushups and trunk twists -- and resistance training that includes running stairs while wearing a weighted vest.

Niles, however, continues to wage occasional war against his appetite: He recently admitted to having eaten eggs (recommended) and bologna (not recommended) for breakfast.

"I told him that's why I leave my phone on," Hogans said. "If they want to get something to eat, they can call to check it with me."

By and large, though, Niles is on his way. Hogans said he'll eventually play at 260-265 pounds and be a physical force on the low block.

Inspired by the example of sculpted forward Joey Dorsey and eager to regain the nimble footwork around the basket that remains his biggest on-court strength, Niles said he can already see and feel the difference.

"I feel better than I have since junior high," he said. "I feel quicker, faster. I can jump higher. When we were running sprints, I was keeping up with Joey. When I got here I couldn't do that. My body feels nice now."

-- Jim Masilak: 901-529-2311

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