Physical transformation of Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall has Villanova on brink of title

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SAN ANTONIO — We were all thinking it.

John Beilein said it.

“This is the Golden State Warriors here,” the Michigan head coach said, one day after watching Villanova set a record for the most three-pointers made in a Final Four game and one day before his team will be tasked with trying to stop that avalanche from coming. “This is Draymond Green-type of thing where your [big] guys can shoot it, they can pass it, they can do everything.”

The big guys that Beilein is referring to are Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall, and they are what makes Villanova impossible to slow down.

I know Villanova has Jalen Brunson, and yes, he is the superstar, the National Player of the Year that can break your team’s spirit without breaking a sweat or cracking a smile. When he wants to take a game over, he is taking that game over.

“If he was the only one out there, you could do some things [defensively],” Beilein said.

He’s not.

Mikal Bridges is a potential lottery pick on the wing. Donte DiVincenzo probably has an NBA career in his future as well, and Phil Booth has proven to be a more than adequate role player as a redshirt junior.

But Spellman and Paschall are the difference-makers. They are the guys that create the mismatches, the players that force opposing big men to make a decision: Either they are going to chase their front court counterparts around on the perimeter, leaving space for guards to penetrate without any rim protection, or they are going to help and pray that their rotations are fast enough that one of Villanova’s half-dozen three-point snipers doesn’t get a wide-open look.

Neither option works.

And what makes them truly special is that neither of them will be overpowered or a liability defensively. Paschall is one of the most explosive leapers in the country, and at 6-foot-6 with long arms and the ability to move his feet, he’s the prototype of a switchable wing. Spellman is a beast, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound behemoth that has, in this tournament, really shown off his athleticism, shot-blocking and strength inside.

The most impressive part?

Both of them were fat when they arrived at Villanova.


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To truly appreciate where Omari Spellman is in his life right now you have to understand just how difficult it was for him when he arrived at Villanova less than two years ago.

At the time, Spellman was a balloon. He was right around 300 pounds, a five-star prospect that had all kinds of potential buried underneath his 25 percent body-fat. Spellman knew that, eventually, he would have to get himself into shape, but what he didn’t know was just how much time he was going to have to do it during his first year on campus.

Spellman had to redshirt his first year on campus. The NCAA ruled that he was a fifth-year player coming out of high school, that he didn’t get his core credit completed within the required window of time because they determined that his high school clock had started when he repeated the eighth-grade.

Villanova appealed the ruling, but the NCAA wasn’t hearing it.

“Coach called me into his office, and he just sat me down,” Spellman said. “‘The appeal came up. You’re not going to be able to play.’ I just broke down. It was hard, but we talked about it, and once I calmed down we could only move forward.”

“They told me you can’t be successful at any level past high school at 300 pounds,” Spellman added. “They told me, ‘Beyond basketball, how do you want to be able to interact with your children, and your children’s children?’ That really hit home for me, because I don’t want to be unhealthy for the rest of my life. It’s something I really took pride in.”

What moving forward meant was a blessing in disguise, and music to the ears of Strength & Conditioning coach John Shackleton, or Shack.

He’d have a full year to work with Spellman without having to worry about the inconvenience of a basketball game.

The key with Spellman came down to discipline. He had no understanding, or desire, to eat well. Gummi bears by the bag. Fried foods. Fast food. “I wasn’t eating because I was hungry,” Spellman said. “It tasted good.”

Shack’s job isn’t just to be the S&C coach. He’s also a nutrition coach, which is different from being a dietician or a nutritionist because his goal wasn’t to simply give Spellman the foods that he needed to be eating. He was teaching him how to be a healthier person. Shack and Spellman would stroll the aisles of Whole Foods, the coach teaching his student what was good for him and why the bad stuff was bad. He would go to restaurants and show Spellman how he could find something on the menu that he enjoyed eating without breaking his diet. He would task Villanova’s grad assistants with going to Sweetgreen — think Chipotle but salads instead of burritos — and have him drop them off at Spellman’s class five minutes before Spellman showed up.

“Everything with him was clockwork,” Shack said. “I knew if he didn’t eat for a while, he’d end up eating some s*** because he’d be starving.”

And when the results started to kick in, that’s when Spellman realized the power of being in shape. “He’s addicted to the grind,” teammate Donte DiVincenzo, himself a redshirt, said. Now, when Spellman goes out to eat on his own, he’ll take pictures of the plates, sending them to Shack — “Is this approved?” — instead of posting them to Instagram.

All told, Spellman lost about 45 pounds while adding muscle, explosiveness and quickness to his game that he never had before.

Paschall’s transformation wasn’t as drastic as Spellman’s.

The 6-foot-6 forward transferred to Villanova from Fordham after his head coach was fired, but he was injured at the end of that year and disenfranchised with where the program was headed.

“I got lazy,” Paschall said, and his weight jumped up close to 270 pounds. He had 16 percent body fat. More than anything, he had let himself go; the dad-bod physique may be what’s trendy these days, but it’s not exactly ideal for a basketball player whose skillset is built around his athleticism.

Like Spellman, Paschall was going to have to sit out a year once he arrived at Villanova, and once again, Shack was able to get his hooks into a player that needed to change his body.

Paschall’s situation was also a little bit different than Spellman’s. The weight came off once he started working out again — he says he’s down to 245 pounds with 6 percent body fat — but his issue was in the mechanics. He never was properly taught the movements he is supposed to make while working out, and that manifested itself in weak stabilizing muscles. “He couldn’t even squat or lunge properly,” but he still had a 40-inch vertical when he showed up to campus.

The plan with Paschall started at the very basic level. He would put the player in front of a mirror so he could see how goofy and awkward he looked doing movements like air-squats or lunges. He put him in a bicram yoga class to help develop his core and strengthen his stabilizers. He helped him perfect the details, and the results have been impressive. Paschall is a physical specimen.

And those transformations have transformed this Villanova team into what they are: A juggernaut that is impossible to matchup with.

They no longer have mismatches, not with their front line down 75 pounds.

“It helps the most on the defensive end, trying to stay in front of guys, blocking shots and moving laterally,” Spellman said of the weight loss. “It just helps all around to not have that weight. It would be like you going to play basketball but before you go out on the court, they put a 45 pound bookbag on you. It just makes it harder.”

Spellman lost weight, but he’s proud of where he has grown: as a person, as a man, as an adult. On a roster full of players more than happy to provide the media with canned responses highlighting all the buzz-words involved with Villanova basketball, Spellman is a breath of fresh air. He’s thoughtful, he’s introspective, he’s open and honest, particularly when he’s discussing himself and his weight loss. He’s taken up poetry in his spare time, and he told ESPN he’s working on writing a novel.

Which is why it’s very easy to believe him when he says things like this:

“It was a blessing in disguise. At the time it was hard for me to understand. It was definitely difficult for me to look at it as a positiive, but coach talked to me about having a great attitude and using our mantra as motivation. I just tried to make the best of it and mature as a person, and it’s definitely helped my game.”

“I had to go through a lot of ups and downs last year to fully understand that this is where I needed to be. If I would have played last year, I wouldn’t have been as meticulous and as disciplined. I would have had an OK year, but I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

And where he is, where Paschall is, now is the reason Villanova is one win away from another national title.

Miles Kelly leads Ga. Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

Illinois v Maryland
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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.