STORRS — Last season, during one of the several unplanned breaks in action that have marked his college career, Eric Cobb looked in the mirror and didn’t like what he saw.
Cobb was out for what wound up being a four-game stretch in November due to a high ankle sprain. At 6-foot-9 and tipping the scales around 280 pounds, he knew the reason.
“I felt like that was due to my body fat,” he recalled. “I felt like it was because I was overweight. I started taking my meals seriously. Ever since them, I’ve been feeling healthier.”
Cobb’s personal issues weren’t over at that point — he wound up missing 10 more games due to “conduct detrimental to the team” — but he was on the road to having a better body, a better mind, and just being a better person overall.
Take a look at Cobb now compared to eight, or even three months ago, and it’s like one of those weight-loss ads. No need for a tape measure around his waist or a pair of shorts that no longer fit, though. The numbers speak for themselves: at 246 pounds and 12 percent body fat, the senior forward is down 20 pounds and 2-percent, respectively, just since May.
“I felt like it would help me be lighter on my feet,” Cobb said of his weight loss. “Since then, I’ve been moving quicker, I’ve been reacting to different things better, and just having a healthy mind.”
Cobb began his transformation under former strength and conditioning coach Ed Streit and kicked it into a higher gear since new head coach Dan Hurley brought in Sal Alosi at the end of May. But while Cobb gives credit to Hurley for believing in him and to Alosi for “pushing me every day”, his own self-motivation has been key.
“I think the biggest thing is, he’s made the decision to make this change,” Alosi said. “Any time you’re dealing with athletes, they have to make the decision. Once they do that, make that conscious decision, then you can help guide them. Even prior to me getting here, I think he did some end-of-season measurements and testing and he really wasn’t where he wanted to be. The coaching staff gave him an evaluation of what they thought of him when they first got here, some areas he needed to improve, and he took the ball and ran with it.”
Alosi, who has been strength and conditioning coach at UCLA and in the NFL (Jets, Falcons), noted Cobb’s maturity and the fact he’s the first in the gym each morning.
“Just a really hard worker, and he’s staying within the framework of what we’re asking him to do,” Alosi added. “You see that with a three-, four-year guy, they start to realize, ‘OK, I’m coming to the end of my career, here. What do I need to do to maximize?’ You’re really seeing that with him, in terms of his focus, his work ethic, his willingness to take coaching. He’s very positive.”
And don’t think because Cobb has dropped 20 pounds over the last three months he’ll be lacking the strength to bang bodies down low come November. He’s simply transformed much of his body fat into muscle.
Case in point: When Alosi first arrived at UConn, Cobb could only do about five pull-ups, which are a good indicator of relative strength. The other day, Cobb did a dozen.
This summer, Alosi has largely concentrated on cleaing up Cobb’s body composition through diet and exercise, and build his relative strength and work capacity. A typical day sees Cobb in the gym at 6 a.m., putting up 200 shots, eating a protein-rich breakfast (eggs, bacon), lunch and dinner (meats, pasta, rice), drinking plenty of water, mixing snacks in between meals to keep his metabolism going, and staving off the sweet stuff until 10:30 p.m. bedtime.
And that’s not counting the grueling team workouts under Hurley for four hours each week, followed by weight training under Alosi.
“Coach Sal’s got us on a plan Monday through Friday,” Cobb said, “and I just go along with the plan.”
It all seems a far cry from last winter, when Cobb’s future with the program seemed very much in doubt. Even before his injury and suspension, Cobb, a junior college transfer, seemed to clash with Kevin Ollie, at times putting the ball on the floor like a point guard when the coach wanted him grabbing rebounds and posting low.
A jovial, self-described “people-person,” Cobb wasn’t in a great place mentally. But he never once thought of transferring.
“No, sir. I was still committed,” he said. “I was gonna ride this out until the end. I made this decision, and I was gonna stick with it.”
Cobb, who was dismissed from the team at South Carolina as a freshman, attributed last year’s issues as “growing pains. Everything I went through is just a learning lesson. I’m just living out my purpose, that’s all.”
He was happy to see Hurley hired
“I felt like we had the same mindset that I was aiming for,” Cobb said. “He’s dedicated and determined to have an impact on young peoples’ lives, and that’s what I like.”
Cobb and his teammates finish their second summer session on Friday. When they return just after Labor Day, Cobb will jump into a new regimen designed to add strength before the season starts. Alosi would like him to maintain his 12-percent body fat (“ideal for a big guy”), but maybe get up to 250-255 pounds once the games begin.
“You’ll see more changes in him leading up to mid-October, when we start,” Alosi added. “You’ll see another transformation. I truly believe that.”
You’re just not likely to see Eric Cobb putting the ball on the floor as much anymore
“I think Coach Hurley wants to see me stay away from that,” Cobb said with a smile. “He’s focused on me taking two dribbles and giving the ball up.”
“Whatever the team needs, I’m willing to do.”
RIM RATTLINGS: The Werth Family Champions Center will be undergoing improvements in its weight room, locker rooms, coaches’ offices and front foyer, starting over the next few weeks ... Kentan Facey, who graduated in 2016 and played in Greece last season, intends to play in Friday’s Jim Calhoun Charity All-Star Game at Mohegan Sun Areans. Facey may play in Poland this season.