Slimmer, stronger Massamba out to prove he belongs


Ed Reinke / Associated Press

UNLV’s Kendall Wallace, left, and Louisville’s Jerry Smith, right, battle for a loose ball during the second half on Dec. 31, 2008. Wallace’s teammate, Brice Massamba, looks on in the background. UNLV won the game 56-55.

Click to enlarge photo

A year of strength and conditioning work, and honing his diet, under UNLV guru Jason Kabo has turned Brice Massamba into a leaner, meaner basketball player.

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.”

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  1. Thanks Rob for giving us Rebels hoops fans a fix to keep us going until October. If Massamba does become the big man we need, the Rebels are a matchup nightmare.

    Any news on Darris Santee? He showed signs of improvement as well last season, and then kind of fell off the page.

  2. ksiff - Bryce was a disappointment last season, but I'd put him behind Shaw and ahead of Lopez on the Depth Chart. Until they start practicing as a team I don't think you can make that call.

  3. Although Brice was a dissapointment he was injured and overweight. I expect the top two guys by the end of the season to be Brice and Carlos. Santee can play nicely as well I think. The one guy I don't buy as much is Shaw. I think people forgot how he plays when he wasn't hurt. He doesn't bang in the boards that much and rebounding wasn't his best skill. I think Brice will shock people this year. Man, this season can't come soon enough.

  4. I am glad Brice's brother got in his ear. He looks much better with that slender frame.

    Silver lining: How long has it been since we had depth at the 3.5 - 5 spot?

    Poop lining: Something will have to give and I see at least one midseason transfer.

  5. I don't understand you guys under-estimating Shaw. How does a kid, who's been a role player in one NCAA tourney run and an integral part of another, back down and not improve over guys who haven't even sniffed the same success?

    Brice getting a wake-up call is pleasant to see, but seriously - get real.

    They're in the same "hope they improve" basket, but Shaw is by far the shiniest.

  6. He wanted to sell Volkswagens??

    I'd pay just to see him FIT into a Beetle ... :0

  7. nyrebel, hey man, how's the Big Apple treating you? VW is big in Sweden, sooooo ... until he got serious about hoops, and his ma got him to be serious about school, that was his destiny.
    ksiff and others, Shaw was playing very strong toward the end of last season in practice. He is a different player, with a hard nose down low. And he plays with a growl. He might drift more toward a 5 this season and Santee might be more of a 4.
    Lenny, Tark isn't sounding so good lately. I'll have an update Byte soon, but it's most important to give him a lot of time to himself, and rehabbing, these days. Look for a new Byte this week.
    I agree with you, Jerry. It's tough to put Massamba behind Lopez when Lopez hasn't even participated in an official practice. However, Lopez's upside is huge, as you know. I also believe Lopez's presence added to Brice's transformation. Brice knows how hard Lopez plays. As we have detailed, Lopez is a dervish. Great spin moves in the hole. And he doesn't hesitate in going to the rim. He's working on hook shots with both hands, and he's a heck of a swatter, too. You cats are all correct -- the low-post battles will be tremendous this season.
    Thanks, and keep reading. We're gonna feed you with plenty of info and features and whatnot between now and the tip off of practice.
    As my cohort Ryan Greene likes to say ... Dunk!

  8. ksiff, that is a great deal. Meet you at the Beachcomber for a Christmas Eve mai tai ... if, of course, the schedule allows! :-) I do not know the travel agency, but call the basketball offices. They'll let you know. Also, hustle. Flights are getting expensive. Waikiki accommodations might be a bit expensive, but, heck, it'll be a good holiday present for you and the missus ... but hustle on those, too, because they're going fast. Aloha!
    (For some reason, I've been watching an abundance of my first three seasons of Hawaii Five-O DVDs lately!) :-)

  9. It is amazing what influences people around these kids have. It is refreshing to see family stress the important things in life, hard work, school and mataining focus to reach a goal. Think about the other centers we have had recently who want, want, want and never put in the work to achieve these goals. All while people around them are telling them how good they are and how they should have more playing time and they are going pro......blah, blah, blah.

  10. Wow. He could step his game up? The bigs were such a letdown last year it was pathetic. Im as optimistic as anyone, but the reality was Brice, Santee were pretty much non factors last seaason. I hope they both put in the work it takes this year to be succesfull. It cant keep coming down to bigs not showing up, because we all know that leads to smaller line ups again this year. He looks good though, looking for a BIG year from the BIGS!

  11. Here we go...season hasnt even started yet and we're already seeing slight ramblings of NCAA Tourney or Kruger's head. my gosh!

    I for one am not putting any pressure on this team, deffinetly not this early in the game. I'ma just sit back and enjoy the ride, Kruger's teams alway play well when they are underdogs with chips on their sholders.

  12. Lenny, look for info on Tark soon. He's recuperating slowly, but there will be a new Byte up very shortly. Hopefully he gets his strength back quickly and will offer his usual twice-a-week insights by the time college pigskin kicks into gear.
    Sufferin, surprise the world just once with a positive, if not rational, comment. These aren't pros you're railing on. These are kids trying to get better each day and each year. Man, the act gets stale ...

  13. The truck is still nasty!

  14. Sufferin' wouldn't know positive if it turned the light on in his mothers basement or rolled his 12 sided "D&D" dice.

  15. "Sufferin' wouldn't know positive if it turned the light on in his mothers basement or rolled his 12 sided "D&D" dice"

    Freakin' Hilarious!