Summer time … and the livin’ isn’t easy for college basketball players.
At least it isn’t for those who have dreams of Final Fours and cutting championship nets. Titles might be won in April, but the first steps are taken when the heat is on.
That’s certainly the case at Kansas. The Jayhawks have won 12 – that’s twelve – consecutive Big 12 Conference titles. The work done in the summer isn’t the only reason, but it can’t be ignored.
“I’ve had numerous people come in here and watch our workouts. They are surprised we would go this hard in the summer,” KU coach Bill Self said during the Big 12 summer coaches’ teleconference. “I’m not saying we practice harder than anybody else, but when you allow your guys to work with coaches, there is a work ethic and culture that’s developed. It’s a serious time where guys know, ‘This is a time we have to get better.’”
While Self and his assistants are working with the Jayhawks on the court, strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy is probably tougher on the players in the weight room and at the training table. It’s no coincidence that KU’s Big 12 title streak coincides with Hudy’s arrival in Lawrence.
If 6-10 sophomore Carlton Bragg has a breakout season in 2016-’17, the behind-the-scenes credit will go to Hudy. If freshman Udoka Azubuike, a 7-footer who just turned 17, develops the stamina to play 20 minutes a game in the rugged Big 12, he’ll likely point to Hudy’s conditioning and nutrition work.
“The summer is important, because we try to get the newcomers into the program,” Hudy said, noting that the year-round conditioning is equally important. “We can let the guys be sore without them worrying about the performance aspect. We can be a little bit more aggressive with the training.”
Hudy works off a strength and conditioning template that can be adjusted for individuals. A small adjustment can pay huge benefits.
Bragg played at 220 pounds as a freshman and is now listed at 230. He might step in as Perry Ellis’s replacement. Ellis credited Hudy’s training regimen with helping him become a consensus second-team All-American.
“Perry’s probably one of the best examples of a long-term healthy athlete,” said Hudy, who considers herself a teacher as much as a trainer. “As long as these guys are willing to come in and listen and learn … we’re ultimately about skill development. People make a lot of money running, jumping and throwing. Those are skills. There’s an intent behind everything we’re doing. It’s a process.”
That process isn’t about six-pack abs and bulging biceps. Hudy says the goal is to have the Jayhawks strong, flexible, capable of playing sustained defense, able to accelerate and jump … all while staying healthy. Time in the weight room means less time in the training room.
“We want high-performing athletes, have them be the most efficient athlete they can become,” she said. “I don’t care how much they lift, I care how they lift it, their technique.”
There’s also a process in terms of how Self and Hudy work together.
“To get him to trust how I do things took some time and we still question each other. It’s a good, healthy give and take. It evolves every year. Part of the championship culture here is that every year we’re striving to get better. We’re always asking ourselves how we can improve.”
Before coming to Kansas, Hudy was the strength coach at Connecticut for eight national championship teams – five in women’s basketball, two in men’s basketball, and one men’s soccer title. Despite that success, Self was reluctant to hire a female to be the strength coach for a men’s team.
When Hudy was hired at UConn, former Huskies coach Jim Calhoun told his wife, “Guess what? We’ve got a female strength coach. This will last about two weeks.”
Hudy played volleyball at Maryland, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology. She got her Master of Art and Sport Biomechanics degree from Connecticut. While working with the Huskies, she gained an advocate in athletic director Lew Perkins. When he took the AD job at Kansas, he convinced Self to give Hudy an interview.
“I didn’t want to hire her,” Self said. “Lew would say, ‘If you just meet her once, you’re going to love her.’ But I kept saying, ‘I don’t want to hire a woman to be a men’s strength coach. Who does that?'”
Self’s initial reluctance has turned to admiration. He thinks the Jayhawks have become stronger, more flexible and less injury prone because of Hudy’s conditioning work.
“To us, she’s the best,” Self said. “There’s nobody that could make a case that there’s anyone better. I don’t know where we’d be without her.”
The argument could be made that without Hudy, Kansas wouldn’t be favored to win its 13th consecutive league title.