At the end of last season, Maryland men's basketball forward Ivan Bender sat down with basketball performance director Kyle Tarp for advice on how to improve.
Tarp suggested Bender start a diet — cutting out sweets and eating at scheduled times — to lower his weight. So until the end of May, Bender didn't consume any candy or soda. He only took in carbohydrates after workouts. He didn't eat after 8 p.m.
Bender continued his diet when he returned to College Park for summer workouts in June, helping him cut 30 pounds and gain on-court energy. Bender hopes those developments allow him to take a step forward this season.
"When we played pickup during the offseason and summer, I really felt like, 'Oh my god, I feel so much better,'" Bender said. "I move better, I jump better, I play defense better. The way I feel right now is all because of the diet."
While coach Mark Turgeon lauded Bender for his basketball IQ last season, Bender struggled to make a difference on offense. The Bosnian averaged 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while committing more turnovers than any other bench player (29).
When center Michal Cekovsky fractured his ankle in February, Bender was one of the frontcourt players who struggled to replace the Slovakian's scoring production.
In addition to cutting weight, the 6-foot-9, 228-pound forward worked on his perimeter skills, improving his shot and ability to close out on defenders on the 3-point line.
Using his basketball IQ, Bender has also mentored Maryland's frontcourt newcomers, such as Bruno Fernando, on where to be on each set and at which speed to perform plays.
"He's probably the smartest player I've ever been around," Fernando said. "The stuff he does on the court, it's amazing. He just keeps surprising me every day at practice."
This season, Bender will compete for minutes with Cekovsky, Fernando, center Sean Obi — a Duke transfer who prides himself on rebounding — and forward Joshua Tomaic.
Guard Anthony Cowan said the Terps are running more plays for big men this season, and while Cekovsky and Fernando are known for their athleticism, Bender still needs to prove he can be effective in Turgeon's offense.
While Maryland's lack of frontcourt production diminished its postseason run last season, Bender, behind his revamped energy, hopes to help the Terps play deeper into March.
"Ivan Bender is one of the best big guys I've ever coached as far as passing and having a great feel for the game," Turgeon said.