Tennessee taking shape under Nicodemus Christopher

University of Tennessee
Yemi Makanjuola is pictured before, left, and after going through Tennessee basketball's offseason training regiment.

Photo by University of Tennessee

University of Tennessee Yemi Makanjuola is pictured before, left, and after going through Tennessee basketball's offseason training regiment.

Looking over a room of scribbling scribes and attentive eyes, Tennessee men's basketball coach Cuonzo Martin said, "As far as our guys are concerned, I like where we are headed as a program. From a physical standpoint I give a lot of credit to Nicodemus Christopher."

Who?

Martin could have started anywhere. It was last month's Media Day — the equivalent of a State of the Union for UT and arguably his largest press conference since being hired in March 2011.

He opened with praise for Nicodemus Christopher.

When the Vols take the floor today (TV: FSTN, 7 p.m.) for the season opener against Kennesaw State, Martin hopes fans will see why. Christopher, the team's new strength and conditioning coach, is paying immediate dividends.

"He has done a tremendous job with our guys in their physical development, the athleticism and the quickness," Martin raved.

Dreadlocks swaying, broad shoulders raised, the new coach with the Biblical name piped up his placid voice Wednesday.

"Discipline," Christopher preached, "that's what we do here, fellas."

He paced up the Pratt Pavilion sideline.

"Do it again."

A shortcut here, a mental lapse there, youthful indiscretions aren't missed by Christopher.

Probably because he just turned 26.

That age, though, is very much just a number. Christopher, raised in San Diego, graduated high school at age 16. A degree in health and human performance from Baylor was on the wall by 20. A master's degree in kinesiology with an emphasis on biomechanics and anatomical kinesiology from the University of Texas at Tyler was completed by 22.

Christopher landed at Tennessee in May as a 25-year-old fresh off a one-year stint as the speed and conditioning coordinator at Purdue. His youthfulness raised eyebrows.

"It was a surprise … it just," Christopher said, snapping his finger, "popped out of nowhere."

Not exactly.

Christopher's work at Purdue produced results. So much so that basketball coach Matt Painter passed his name along an old friend and former assistant coach — Cuonzo Martin.

Christopher, whose first name stems from the prominent John 3:16 Bible verse, arrived at Purdue in the same fashion.

"I called (Purdue director of sports performance) Duane Carlisle and told him, 'Listen, you've got to hire this guy, I'd do it myself if I could,' " remembered Keith D'Amelio, who oversaw Christopher during a six-month internship in the Stanford athletic department.

D'Amelio currently serves as the assistant director of performance at Nike's headquarters in Eugene, Ore. He moved to Stanford after working five seasons with the Boston Celtics as an assistant trainer and four seasons as the Toronto Raptors head strength coach.

As it stands, D'Amelio is a primary influence, among others, on the concepts being implemented on the Vols by Christopher. He focuses on individualizing all training regiments and studying players' in-game habits to minimize shortcomings through physical improvements.

"If some team is more physical than us, I take that personally," Christopher said. "I want Tennessee to be the most physical team in the country, hands down."

Martin has said the Vols are bigger, stronger and faster.

Yemi Makanjuola is more powerful. Trae Golden is more agile. Skylar McBee is tougher. Armani Moore has put on 18 pounds of muscle.

Then there is Jarnell Stokes. Having arrived midseason a year ago, the 18-year-old still had some baby fat on him.

Stokes now looks transformed. He's rock solid, having added 20 pounds, and sports just eight percent body fat.

"He's throwing up some weight to say the least," Christopher said.

Martin, though, is more excited by Stokes' "explosiveness and quickness."

"That is just a credit to Nicodemus and Jarnell working together," Martin added.

Christopher, who calls Tennessee a "dream job," will be on the Vols' bench tonight for his first UT basketball game.

He makes one guarantee.

"They're going to be the strongest, fastest, most physical and most conditioned team for the entirety of the game."

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn

© 2012 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 16

MiserableFloridaVol writes:

That's some cool stuff!

tnvol4ever writes:

Wow, sounds like between Cuonzo and Christopher that this team will be very disciplined both mentally and physically. Looking forward to watching me some Tn BB.

thevoice writes:

Man, this is good stuff!! Keep it coming KNS.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

You can't tell much difference with a picture, But the weight difference is great. I wonder what McRae's done? He needed some muscle a bit.
McBee with muscle?? He may not have to be able to move to shoot now.lol Just shoot over 'em.

I am excited about the game tonight. I don't care who we're playin'!

HtownVol writes:

Honestly, can he work with the football team too.
The biggest o_line in the country and we have to reach the potential.
Anyway.. stokes adding 20 lbs of muscle.. this dude should just dominate. I only have that we don't see the major issue we saw last year with the guards being incapable of feeding the bigs the ball.
Go cold

mnvol writes:

While the article is certainly positive, the two pictures remind me of facelift ads.

In the Before picture Yemi's expression is neutral or frowning, there's a darker background, the light's not as good, he's wearing saggy shorts, the inside of his elbows are pointing straight at the camera to keep his arms close to his body, and his skin looks drier.

In the After picture Yemi's smiling, there's a lighter background, the light is brighter, he's wearing form-fitting shorts, the inside of his elbows are turned slightly in to create a little separation of his arms from his body, and he's either got sweat or water on his skin to make it shinier.

If the strength coach wanted to be totally honest about the Before and After pictures, he'd have the same background, the same lighting, the same facial expression, the same clothes, the same posture, and the same skin moisture.

GreerVol22 writes:

ok...someone has to say it....."Boy, the defensive backs could use a dose of Nicodemus"

seriously, nice job Coach M with this hire.

richvol writes:

Thank goodness for this. UT has needed this forever in the BB program. Wayne Chism,as good as he was,did not change physically one iota during his four years here. He could have been a monster with the right SC coach. Can't wait for BB season.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to mnvol:

While the article is certainly positive, the two pictures remind me of facelift ads.

In the Before picture Yemi's expression is neutral or frowning, there's a darker background, the light's not as good, he's wearing saggy shorts, the inside of his elbows are pointing straight at the camera to keep his arms close to his body, and his skin looks drier.

In the After picture Yemi's smiling, there's a lighter background, the light is brighter, he's wearing form-fitting shorts, the inside of his elbows are turned slightly in to create a little separation of his arms from his body, and he's either got sweat or water on his skin to make it shinier.

If the strength coach wanted to be totally honest about the Before and After pictures, he'd have the same background, the same lighting, the same facial expression, the same clothes, the same posture, and the same skin moisture.

It's true that all the factors you mentioned can make a difference in how the same subject is perceived. However, in the last game I noticed that Golden and Stokes both looked trimmer than they were last year. McRae probably won't weigh over 185 if he lives to be 100, but he looked more poised, balanced, and decisive in all his movements. Yemi was all over the court chasing rebounds and loose balls. We'll just have to see if all this improved fitness is real and can be sustained throughout the season, but they looked pretty good to me.

VictorKruger writes:

in response to richvol:

Thank goodness for this. UT has needed this forever in the BB program. Wayne Chism,as good as he was,did not change physically one iota during his four years here. He could have been a monster with the right SC coach. Can't wait for BB season.

Rich, I respectfully disagree. Chism came to UT with rounded shoulders and skinny arms, and by the time he left he was pretty muscular and could hold his own inside. My big regret with Chism was Pearl giving him the green light to jack up those 3s. I think Chism and the team would have been better served with him focusing on being as inside player, as Stokes is now.

I'm going tonight and sitting in the "good" seats. I'm really hoping to hear John Ward belt out "It's basketball time in Tennessee" like he did last year!

60s70s80s90s00s10sallvol writes:

This is a good article and good insight. Give him the top job and let him work with all the athletes!

1vavolfan writes:

in response to richvol:

Thank goodness for this. UT has needed this forever in the BB program. Wayne Chism,as good as he was,did not change physically one iota during his four years here. He could have been a monster with the right SC coach. Can't wait for BB season.

I agree, and Scotty Hopson was still built like Chris Rock when he left. I was able to watch Purdue a few years back at Virginia Tech and have never seen a tougher team that played in your face defense for 40 minutes. It appears as this will win the day now at Tennessee and to quote the great Bart Scott "can't wait".

johnlg00 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

You can't tell much difference with a picture, But the weight difference is great. I wonder what McRae's done? He needed some muscle a bit.
McBee with muscle?? He may not have to be able to move to shoot now.lol Just shoot over 'em.

I am excited about the game tonight. I don't care who we're playin'!

Well, Martin and Christopher both said that the Vols' workouts were specifically tailored to each player's needs. I assume that means that those who needed bulk got different workouts, diets, and such than those who needed to lose weight and/or body fat or just tighten up and get stronger. Modern athletic training and conditioning goes FAR beyond "Alla youse guys pump them weights til I says 'stop'." As I said on another thread, McRae just isn't built to be bulked up, though he can be and probably is stronger than he was last year. Same with McBee. All these guys and several more just need to maximize their natural physical potential for quickness, agility, flexibility, endurance and the like. I'm sure Martin and Christopher know that nobody's shooting touch is helped by excessively tight, bulked-up shoulders but they can all benefit by becoming stronger and fitter.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to 60s70s80s90s00s10sallvol:

This is a good article and good insight. Give him the top job and let him work with all the athletes!

It would be nice if all the athletes got the individual attention Christopher is giving the basketball players. It is a lot easier to create player-specific workouts for 15 or so basketball players than it would be for 100 or so football players. It would take 8-10 trainers with the same education and experience as Christopher to create the same kind of workouts for the football team. Add in the other men's sports and the Vols would need a few dozen Christophers. I'm just glad the basketball team has the only one there is right now.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to VictorKruger:

Rich, I respectfully disagree. Chism came to UT with rounded shoulders and skinny arms, and by the time he left he was pretty muscular and could hold his own inside. My big regret with Chism was Pearl giving him the green light to jack up those 3s. I think Chism and the team would have been better served with him focusing on being as inside player, as Stokes is now.

I'm going tonight and sitting in the "good" seats. I'm really hoping to hear John Ward belt out "It's basketball time in Tennessee" like he did last year!

I think I'm with you on this one, VK. Chism was much more defined and fitter when he left than when he first arrived. I also would have far rather seen him working the lane than hoisting all those threes, though he did make a few big ones. Many of us said so at the time, but it wasn't our decision and it surely doesn't matter now. As for Stokes, it would be better both for his current production and for his pro future to have a reliable--if not overly frequent!--mid-range jumper.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I think I'm with you on this one, VK. Chism was much more defined and fitter when he left than when he first arrived. I also would have far rather seen him working the lane than hoisting all those threes, though he did make a few big ones. Many of us said so at the time, but it wasn't our decision and it surely doesn't matter now. As for Stokes, it would be better both for his current production and for his pro future to have a reliable--if not overly frequent!--mid-range jumper.

Lol didn't Stokes shoot one of those in the first game last year? I don't remember too many of those mids. He made that first one though. I think the coach must have put a clamp on them?
Who knows but I'd love to see some more made ones like that first one. Lot's more.

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