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Diop getting into shape

Bob Finnan, Staff Writer July 17, 2002

Cavs center has cut weight and is ready to show that he belongs
He's a lean, mean fighting machine.

Cavaliers center DeSagana Diop was not only one of the worst players in the NBA last season, he was one of the flabbiest.

The Cavs' first-round pick in the 2001 draft said he weighed 335 pounds when he was drafted.

He claimed to weigh "about 290 pounds" yesterday for the first day of the Cavs' mini-camp at Gund Arena. The Cavs will practice for the next two days before heading out to Salt Lake City tomorrow afternoon. Their first game in the Rocky Mountain Revue is 9 p.m. Friday against the Phoenix Suns at Salt Lake Community College.

The 7-footer has lost much of the baby fat and is finally rounding into shape. He has some muscular definition and it's paying off on the court. He displayed some solid moves in the low post yesterday. He also drilled some 15-foot jumpers over free agent center Lonnie Jones of Ball State University.

"I feel better," Diop said. "I'm quicker. My turnaround jumper, my dribbling, everything is quicker."

The 20-year-old native of Senegal is also a bit grouchy. You see, he's been forced to alter his eating habits.

"I need to drop 5 more pounds," he said. "I'm eating right. I'm not eating any more chicken wings. No more cake. (I'm eating) a lot of vegetables. It's hard, but you have to do it. I'm eating healthy food."

His rookie year was a complete washout. He spent most of the season on the injured list or recuperating from another injury - a stress reaction in his left foot, a sprained knee, a sprained ankle and finally plantar fasciaitis. Every time he would show improvement in practice or in games, he would get hurt.

"He's made a real commitment to get himself in shape and ready for the season," agent Leon Rose said. "You couldn't really evaluate anything last year because of nagging injuries. He was a little behind the 8-ball. He's dedicated himself to preparing for this season. Dedicating himself this summer is an important first step. He realized what it's going to take to compete at the highest level."

Rookie guard Dajuan Wagner, 19, is the only player on the Cavs' roster who is younger.

"You can't forget how young he is," Rose said. "You have to remember these things don't happen overnight. Look at (Indiana's) Jermaine O'Neal. It took him years before he became the dominant player he is. He's a great player."

No one in his right mind would compare Diop to the Pacers' All-Star, would they?

"They both came out of high school," Rose said. "DeSagana had played only two years over here before he was drafted. Ultimately, he'll be a great player in this league."

Diop said the reason he kept getting injured was because he was carrying around so much extra weight.

"That was why," he said. "No one wanted to say that, but that was one of the reasons. It was hard last year because I kept getting hurt. It was frustrating. I kept getting hurt all the time. It was really tough. It was the toughest year I've gone through in my life. I just have to deal with it."

He appeared in just 18 games last year and averaged 1.4 points and 0.9 rebounds. Now, he has a new outlook on life.

"I know I can play," he said. "I can't wait to get to Salt Lake City for the summer league. I'm running the floor better. There was a little bit of pressure last year. But I know I can play."

He said he's been working with Cavs coach John Lucas and has been taking 500 shots a day.

"He really looks good," Lucas said. "His conditioning was not a factor. He made his shots. He's a man. We want him to avoid any more setbacks. His length will be a problem (for teams). He'll continue to get better and better."

Lucas said he wished Diop could have made more of a contribution last year. Cavs general manager Jim Paxson said last year was like Diop's "redshirt year."

"He hasn't been through it yet," Lucas said. "He hasn't been out there getting killed. He and Wagner are very young. I would not like to get any younger."

©The News-Herald 2002
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