The Villanova Wildcats' Omari Spellman was finishing up a stellar performance in the team's Sweet 16 win against West Virginia on Friday with 18 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks when a photo of him started making the rounds on Twitter.
The tweet showed a softer, pudgier Spellman playing in high school – a stark contrast to the incredibly fit, muscular athlete he is now.
John Shackelton, the team's strength and conditioning coach, minces no words in his appraisal of the younger Spellman: "He was just fat and overweight."
A red-shirt freshman, Spellman, 20, will likely see major playing time on Saturday when Villanova, the top seed in the East Region and the 2016 national champion, plays Kansas in a national semifinal in San Antonio. It will be the Wildcats' second Final Four appearance in three years. On Monday, the players celebrated their Sunday win over Texas Tech by attending their regular classes on the Radnor Township campus.
"Cardio and aerobically, he was in pretty decent shape, because he played basketball all year round," said Shackelton, assessing Spellman's first days on campus. But the 6-foot-9 forward, who weighed 287 pounds and had 24 percent body fat, knew he would need to slim down to reach his potential as a college player and his personal goal of playing in the NBA, Shackelton said.
Originally from Cleveland, Spellman spent his junior year at the MacDuffie School in Granby, Mass., before he transferred to St. Thomas More, an all-boys boarding school set on a lake in Connecticut. At graduation, Spellman, who was rated 16th in the 2016 edition of ESPN's Top 100 recruits, was ruled academically ineligible after he did not complete all his requirements in time to play at Villanova.
Shackelton used the extra year to mold the recruit into shape. First up: Field trips to Whole Foods.
Spellman was no different than many incoming college players whose diet includes a lot of processed foods, sugars and fast food, Shackelton said. Only some players can do OK on junk food.
"Omari is the kind of guy who can't break those down," Shackelton said. He spent breakfast, lunch, and dinners teaching Spellman about balancing proteins, good fats, and healthy carbohydrates, including lots of vegetables.
Sugar was out; nuts, fruits and water were in.
They worked on finding healthy meals and snacks at Whole Foods to bring back to the dorm. "They have great prepared foods," Shackelton said.
Sleep also needed to become a priority for the young athlete.
"He wasn't sleeping as much as he should have been," said Shackelton, explaining that he'd gotten into the habit of playing video games at night. Once he got into a better schedule with twice-daily workouts starting at 6 a.m., the freshman forward was almost forced to learn how to sleep.
Shackelton also devised a workout plan that included bench pressing, squats, pushups, pullups, body awareness — key when you're as tall as these players — and walking on a treadmill with a weighted vest — at an incline
There was also 90 minutes of hot yoga, in steamy conditions to elicit maximum sweat and flexibility.
"It's horrible at first," Shackelton said. "Your body gets adapted, and you feel the benefit. It's an unbelievable class."
Spellman embraced the changes.
He dropped 20 pounds the first summer and his body fat fell to about 18 percent. He now weighs 245 with 10 percent body fat, Shackelton said.
"He is the type of dude who wants to know how to do things the right way," said Shackelton. He described Spellman as "very coachable."
"I just improved my diet, my work habits," Spellman told the MassLive website recently.
A much lighter, more agile Spellman, averaging 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his first season, was named the Big East Freshman of the Year.
"I just want to continue to live a healthy lifestyle for the rest of my life," Spellman told MassLive. "I want to be healthy for my children and grandchildren. I want to do things with them. It's not about basketball as much anymore."
When it comes to weight loss, more people fail than succeed. What was Spellman's secret?
"There is no secret program," said Shackelton. It was up to Spellman to bring the effort, he said.