Ed Reinke / Associated Press
Monday, Aug. 24, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Darly Massamba picked up younger brother Brice at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport in May and didn’t hold back during their 45-minute drive home to Sodertalje.
In his first basketball season at UNLV, Brice averaged 2 points and 1.3 rebounds. He had more personal fouls (42) than boards (34).
Darly recited those figures on the drive. He wondered aloud about the Rebels’ upset victory at Louisville on New Year’s Eve, when he saw a bloated version of his younger brother.
You didn’t play like you used to, Darly said. You used to breeze by bigger guys and post up smaller guys. You looked bigger. You didn’t move as quickly as you used to.
What do you want to do after college?
“Play professionally,” Brice said.
“You can’t play professionally,” said Darly, who plays pro ball in Sweden, “if you play like you did your freshman season.”
Those words still ring in Brice Massamba’s ears.
“That made me think,” he said. “You can’t just throw away opportunities like that, years like that. Even though I might have been hurt, I have to play harder. That really started me thinking.”
Madeleine Lukolama discussed the future with the youngest of her four sons, too, during his two-month stretch at home.
“She was not mad,” Brice Massamba said. “She thinks school first. Still, she knows how much I love basketball and what I want to do after UNLV. She told me I have to keep my weight down and keep working hard if I want to earn the money, get the check.”
A trimmed-down Truck
Massamba, 21, is one of the more intriguing Rebels as individual workouts with coaches begin today with the start of classes.
Anyone who hasn’t seen the player nicknamed “Truck” for a few months will do a double take. He arrived at UNLV a year ago weighing 278 pounds.
Thanks to UNLV assistant strength and conditioning guru Jason Kabo, and Massamba’s older brothers, he has shed about 40 pounds.
Kabo zapped pizza and fast food, and late-night snacking, from Massamba’s diet. Grilled chicken is his staple. Kabo’s intense workout regimen focused on an abundance of cardio work and high-tempo weight lifting.
“We wanted to keep his heart rate up to burn fat,” Kabo said. “That’s what really helped.”
When he left for Sodertalje (pronounced Soo-der-TELL-ye) in May, Massamba had sliced his 21-percent body fat to 15 percent. He had boosted his bench press 30 pounds, to 225. He weighed 239.
Every day Massamba was gone, Kabo said a few prayers and crossed his fingers that his pupil would not slip, on spaghetti and Swedish meatballs, and tip the scales over 245 when he returned to Las Vegas.
The 6-foot-9 Massamba checked in at 244.
“He had worked hard until the end of May to get under 240,” Kabo said. “He matured a lot in his first year. He had a good summer. If he has a good preseason here, he may see extra minutes. I think he sees he may have a spot on the floor if he works at it.”
Brotherly tough love
Kabo didn’t have to worry about Massamba in Sweden. Darly and Thomas, who also plays pro ball, worked him out twice a day, with extra shooting, and forced him out of bed for early-morning runs.
“They told me they were going to turn me into a mean machine,” said Brice Massamba, smiling.
In pick-up games when he returned to Las Vegas, Massamba wowed UNLV teammates with dunks and power moves – especially off his left knee, without hesitating – to the basket.
“It’s pretty fun to see teammates looking at you, saying ‘What was that? Where did that come from?’ ” said Massamba, again smiling.
Last season, a sore left knee (from a Findlay College Prep ligament injury) and a tender left Achilles’ tendon limited him to about 60 percent efficiency. His power leg was a liability.
Massamba said he’s close to 100 percent.
The knee still affects him, when he plays ball after executing squat presses in the weight room, and the Achilles hasn’t completely healed.
But he plans on showing teammates, fans and coaches his true ability. There were flashes last season, a dive for a loose ball or a devastating pick 30 feet from the rim.
Santa Clara senior center John Bryant even tried pushing Massamba around. Massamba pushed back.
“I’ve always played against older and tougher guys,” Massamba said. “You always have to show your best. If a big guy barks at you, you can’t be like a scared little puppy, you have to toughen up and show them you aren’t moving.
“I won’t back down.”
He said all of the returnees are embarrassed about a 21-11 season speckled with ugly defeats and a 4-7 finish.
“Expectations were high, and we didn’t live up to them,” Massamba said. “It felt pretty bad to be a Rebel. We were supposed to win after two consecutive Mountain West tournament titles.
“We learned from our mistakes. I think this year will go better than last year. The big guys, we didn’t play well last season. I won’t lie. We can do better this season. We’ll be more hungry.”
The old Brice
The new and improved post player from Sweden has indeed come a long way. Not so long ago he thought he’d sell Volkswagens, hoping to move up the managerial ladder, out of high school in Sweden.
He nearly signed with a pro club in Spain, but his mother coaxed him to further his education in the States.
Now Massamba wants to show he belongs at UNLV.
“I’m really happy,” he said. “I’m starting to get back to the old Brice. I’m really happy for that. I hope the old Brice will come out now.”