Center’s loss is Rebels’ gain

A variety of weight-loss gimmicks are available to the masses. UNLV center Brice Massamba followed a simple plan to achieve a slimmer figure.

“You can’t eat all the bad food. It’s pretty easy,” he said. “You don’t have to eat fast food all the time. I started eating healthier, and I don’t eat late.”

A lot of running also helped his cause, and Massamba said he shed more than 40 pounds over the summer. He now packs 238 pounds on his 6-foot-10-inch frame, so he’s able to run the floor and be more productive in games.

A leaner, meaner Massamba is calming one of the Rebels’ biggest concerns by establishing a much-needed presence in the post.

Massamba did not start once as a freshman. He expects to make his third start of his sophomore season when UNLV (2-0) meets Southern Illinois (2-0) at 7 p.m. today at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The game, which will not be televised, is part of the inaugural Mountain West Conference-Missouri Valley Conference Challenge.

The Salukis, who opened with blowout victories over Tennessee-Martin and Indianapolis, possess quick guards who shoot well. But they also are big on the front line with 6-11 center Nick Evans and 6-8 forwards Anthony Booker and Carlton Fay.

A year ago, Massamba would have been outmatched. He looked more like a competitive eater than a scorer and rebounder, averaging 2.0 points and grabbing only 34 rebounds in 27 games.

Through two games with a more athletic physique, Massamba is averaging 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.

“I knew I had to get in better shape,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I played good at all. It felt like it was my worst season ever playing basketball. I didn’t rebound. The only thing I did good was play defense against the big guys.”

When he went home to Sweden for two months last summer, Massamba was put on a diet and exercise plan by his older brother Darly, a professional basketball player.

“It wasn’t something I had to say,” Rebels coach Lon Kruger said. “Brice wanted to do that, and he knew the value of that.”

Massamba still is limited offensively, but he’s noticeably more agile. He said an injury to his left knee, which bothered him for most of last season, has improved. Dropping weight has relieved some of the strain.

“It’s easier to make moves and easier to jump now. I feel more athletic,” said Massamba, who had eight points and six rebounds in an 88-75 victory over UNR on Wednesday.

Kruger did not have to deliver a motivational speech to whip Massamba into shape. But sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield said everyone knew a change in Massamba was needed.

“I wouldn’t say he was a fat slob. He was a little overweight or whatever,” Bellfield said. “He showed leadership losing weight. He’s taking this a lot more serious, so we should feed him and reward him.”

By feeding Massamba, Bellfield is referring to throwing the ball to him in the low post, a missing aspect of UNLV’s offense last season.

Massamba, senior forward Darris Santee and junior forward Matt Shaw — the Rebels’ threesome in the interior — are averaging a combined 18 points and 13 rebounds per game.

“The three of those guys are taking pride in it,” Kruger said, “and I think they’re really fired up as a group.

“I tell the big guys, ‘Hey, the more good results you get, the more your teammates are going to throw it in there,’ and that’s the way it is. ‘If you’re not getting good results, then you’re probably not going to get as many shots.’ “

Bellfield said Massamba has “always been energetic.” The difference now is he’s aggressive and confident.

If he’s not seeing the ball, Massamba said he won’t be shy to call for it. The guards, Bellfield included, are more likely to listen.

“I know if I talk to them they will give me the ball,” Massamba said. “I have to ask for the ball. I’m trying to be more dominant inside.”

GAME DAY

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS VS. UNLV

WHEN: 7 p.m. today

WHERE: Thomas & Mack Center

RADIO: KWWN-AM (1100)

LINE: UNLV -7; no total

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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