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October 25, 2006

'Big Baby' slims down in the offseason

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Louisiana State junior Glen "Big Baby" Davis spent the offseason staring down his most intimidating foe yet.

Florida's Joakim Noah? Not quite.

UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute? Not even close.

Neither of those fearsome post players scared Davis quite as much as the bowl of oatmeal the LSU post player had to devour every day.

"It's like slop," Davis said Wednesday at the Southeastern Conference basketball media days at the Birmingham Marriott. "You mix that up, and it's just hot slop. To eat that every day is just boring."

All those helpings of oatmeal eventually served their purpose. Big Baby isn't nearly as big anymore.

Davis has cut more than 50 pounds off his once-chunky frame as he tries to lead the Tigers to a second consecutive Final Four appearance. He already notices a difference in his game.

"I feel quicker," the 6-foot-9, 289-pound Davis said. "I feel more agile. I think my play around the rim has gotten better. I have more stamina. It helped me a lot. It's opened up a new side of my game that most people have never seen before. Hopefully y'all can tell the difference when we play."

Davis didn't always believe he needed to lose weight.

He was named the SEC Player of the Year last season while weighing at least 325 pounds. Davis used his girth to control the paint and punish lighter post players.

Davis collected 18.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game to become only the fifth player since 1961 to lead the SEC in both categories.

"Last year my approach to the weight was I was rebellious," Davis said. "They already lied and said I was 310 (on the official roster) when I was like 325. I'm playing good. I'm doing good. I'm still dominant. I don't need to lose weight."

UCLA gave him a wake-up call.

The Bruins figured the best way to slow down Davis in the Final Four was to make him run as much as possible. The plan worked.

Davis shot just 5-of-17 from the floor before fouling out of the Tigers' 59-45 NCAA semifinal loss.

"That's when it really hit me, the UCLA game," Davis said. "You're even asking to come out of the game. What's (my) problem. This is the Final Four. You don't come out of the game. It really bothered me."

It bothered him even more when he stepped onto a scale after the season and saw an ugly number staring back at him.

347.

"That's when I said, 'Man, I've got to lose weight,' " Davis said.

Davis may have lost some weight, but he hasn't lost his sense of humor. He made that evident while discussing the sacrifices involved in changing his diet.

He stopped eating beef and started consuming oatmeal. He compared his plight to that of a "Fear Factor" contestant who is offered $50,000 to digest the worst food imaginable.

"I would never eat something for fifty grand," Davis said. "It's ridiculous."

Davis sometimes tried to pretend the oatmeal was ice cream.

"I'd have to really get into character for that," Davis said. "I'd think, 'OK, I'm going to eat this,' like I'm a starving castaway on 'Gilligan's Island.' That's how you've got to do it sometimes, the little tricks I have to play with the inner child inside of me."

Although Davis insists he wouldn't eat bad food for $50,000, all those helpings of oatmeal eventually could earn him a much bigger payday.

Davis returned to school for his junior season instead of turning pro because he wanted to improve his stock and make himself a future lottery selection.

"Instead of being a late first-round (pick) or early second, now he can be a top-10 or top-15 pick and guarantee him some money," LSU coach John Brady said. "I think that's what it came down to."

Davis' new frame surely will catch the attention of NBA scouts. He already has made an impression on his LSU teammates.

"His endurance has picked up," senior forward Darnell Lazare said. "He's in better shape. I'm not going to say he's quicker because I always thought he was a quick guy even with the weight he had on. He always moved his feet well and was always a good athlete. The fact he lost the weight definitely helped his stamina, and it showed people he's willing to put in the work and do whatever it takes to get to the next level."

The weight loss should help Davis get to the next level, but first he wants to take his team to the next level.

LSU's surprising run to the Final Four last season ended in disappointment. After the Tigers showcased size and athleticism throughout the postseason, UCLA ran them off the floor and dominated the glass in the NCAA semifinal.

Davis would love to lead the Tigers to a second consecutive Final Four run. Only this time, he wants to make sure the season ends differently.

His weight loss should only help in that regard.

"It makes him a better basketball player," Brady said, "which in turns makes our team a better basketball team."

Leading two Final Four runs in a row should be enough to guarantee Davis his place in LSU lore.

He doesn't want to be remembered as the guy who was a nonfactor in an NCAA semifinal. He wants to be known as the guy who went back to the Final Four and made amends the following year.

That's what drove him to the gym each day, and it's what helped him stomach those oatmeal breakfasts each morning.

"I just wanted to be the best player I can be," Davis said. "I want to leave my mark here on college basketball. Immortality. That's what everyone wants."

Big Baby's body may not be quite as big, but his expectations are larger than ever.

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