Kevin Larsen’s transformation, from pushover to powerful

After the men’s basketball team nearly missed knocking off Kansas State at home last December, then-freshman center Kevin Larsen’s poor performance stood out with just a quick skim of the box score.

Throughout the key non-conference game, Larsen struggled to gain position on the block, on the boards and was pushed around by a stronger Wildcats front court that held Larsen to just two rebounds, two points and a mere three total field goal attempts.

Larsen is now using that sluggish play in a near-miss upset as fuel for his resurgence. Looking back at last season, he said that game sticks out as evidence that he didn’t play to his full potential during his freshman campaign in which he started nearly every game and averaged five rebounds per game.

“At the end of the season, I saw where my potential could put me,” Larsen said. “I was like, ‘Man, I could be really good if I just stay focused and work harder.’”

He put that mindset to the test this summer. Larsen executed an offseason workout and nutrition regimen to spark his revival. He’s transformed his game and his body quickly, dropping his weight from 262 pounds to 247.

Most noticeably, though, Larsen went from 16.5 percent body fat down to 8.6 percent.

In his regular workout with strength and conditioning coach Ben Kenyon, Larsen’s daily routine was typical, but he said he pushed himself harder than he ever had. He lifted weights to tone his body, ran for court stamina and worked on the vertical climber to improve his quickness.

And he had to put down the candy bars.

“It was just about me eating healthy,” Larsen said with a laugh. “I had to drop the chocolate and stop drinking Coke. It was just about me being more committed.”

The transformation impressed head coach Mike Lonergan, who said he expects the 6-foot-10 center to better hold his own against the Atlantic 10’s other big centers after using him in a forward role last season.

“If you haven’t seen him in a while, from the neck down you can’t even recognize him,” Lonergan said. “This year, [Larsen] really needs to get in there and mix it up.”

Even his teammates have noticed the big changes, mentioning his improved confidence and stamina.

“Physically, the guy has toned his body, he’s strong as an ox, always been a big guy. He’s not lugging along, stumbling on his legs or anything, he’s strong, confident in his footwork and I think that will help him a lot,” junior forward John Kopriva said.

Lonergan will look to both Larsen and senior Isaiah Armwood to handle the post for the Colonials this season.

The third-year head coach said Larsen’s intensity level used to decrease as a game progressed – hurting the Colonials down the stretch. In close games like the one against Kansas State, Lonergan wanted to see more from Larsen and said he “was not quite there yet.”

“Like I told him, he changed his body, now it’s got to carry over onto the court,” Lonergan said.

Noticing more than just a physical change, Larsen is brimming with confidence as he said the transformation has also made a difference to his game mentally.

Larsen, who compared his on-court skill set to a “more versatile Tim Duncan,” said the game feels easier compared to last season and that he will improve from the eight points and five rebounds per game that he averaged then.

“Right now, in my own opinion, I can play all five positions,” said Larsen. “I’ve been working on my ball-handling and shooting, and that’s something the fans are going to see this year.”

He predicted he would average up to 14 points and eight rebounds per game, with his first All A-10 nod this year.

“I feel like I’m stronger, more mature in my body,” Larsen said. “Last year as a freshman, when I played against a guy from Kansas State, he pushed me around. This year that probably won’t happen.”

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