Sweat streaming down his face and exhaustion in his eyes, Beas Hamga took a needed break. This is his year off, technically, but he never has been so busy.
With basketball practice, class and the weight room on his schedule, Hamga is working harder and making more progress than he imagined.
“I can do so many things that I couldn’t do when I first got here,” the 7-foot freshman from Cameroon said Thursday after UNLV’s practice at the Thomas & Mack Center. “I’m glad because I know that I’m really improving.”
In mid-October, when Hamga stepped on the floor for his first official workout with the Rebels, he was a different person in body and mind. He’s stronger and in better shape now, not to mention much happier.
The NCAA questioned his academic records and ruled him ineligible in August. Finally, in October, Hamga was granted qualifier status by the NCAA, which allowed him to be on scholarship with the restriction that he must redshirt as a freshman.
The whole situation confused him, Hamga said, but he’s done looking back and is focused on the future.
“I was unhappy at the beginning. I didn’t know what I was going to do, go back to high school or go to junior college,” he said. “But now I’m good.
“Everything is not like I wanted it, because I really wanted to play this year, but it happened that way. I don’t think I have bad people around me. I trust them very much, so I’m really happy with that.”
For about 30 minutes after Thursday’s practice, Hamga worked on shooting drills with assistant coach Lew Hill. After Tuesday’s practice, he put in extra work on his post moves with assistant coach Greg Grensing. That’s part of his daily routine.
In only three months, Hamga said, he has come “really far” in his skill development. And he has another four years to keep going.
“Ever since he kind of knew what his future held, his attitude toward working to get better each day has been great,” Rebels coach Lon Kruger said. “From the start of practice to now, Beas has made just tremendous strides. I really like what he’s doing every day.
“He’s here early and he stays late. He’s very self-motivated, for a freshman especially, and it’s great to see.”
Some of Hamga’s most important work is done with Jason Kabo, UNLV’s assistant director of strength and conditioning. Kabo oversees Hamga’s weight training schedule and serves as his calorie coach.
Hamga is up to 225 pounds, a 10-pound gain since October. In addition to eating more frequently, Hamga consumes nutrition shakes that Kabo prepares. The goal is 3,000 calories per day.
“I talk to him about his diet and kind of tell him what he needs to eat and when,” Kabo said. “Beas is picky about what he eats. I’m trying to get him to eat more. I stay on him every day.”
Hamga said he has developed a liking for some fast foods, including Panda Express and McDonald’s. That’s not a concern because he has only 3.3 percent body fat.
“Five double cheeseburgers, with no cheese and no pickles,” Hamga said of his favorite McDonald’s meal.
“I came from a different place, and the food that I used to eat, it’s not the same here. Kabo is trying to push me to eat even when I’m not hungry. He knows what I need to get stronger, gain weight and be prepared physically. I follow his advice.”
Hamga’s maximum bench press has increased from 220 pounds to 245. He can squat 275 pounds for six repetitions.
“He’s hitting it pretty hard,” Kabo said. “He doesn’t ask twice about anything. If I tell him to do something, he does it.”
Whether he’s lifting weights or putting up turnaround jumpers after practice, Hamga has impressed his teammates.
“He stays after practice every day and works,” junior guard Wink Adams said. “And he’s not a player who just comes in and works on things he’s not going to do, like shoot 3-pointers. He actually works on hook shots. Next year, he’s going to be a big factor on this team.”
Nothing is tougher, Hamga said, than watching the games. He was aching to play last week when the Rebels beat Brigham Young, 70-41.
“It’s really, really hard sitting on the bench,” Hamga said. “I felt it at the game against BYU. I felt so bad. The team is playing good, and I want to be a part of it.
“I can’t wait. Next year, when I think about that, it makes me feel a little better.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or (702) 387-2907.