JOHN KOVACH | Colleges Conklin beefs up for Cornhuskers
While playing basketball for Hubbard High several years ago, 6-foot-11, 190-pound Brian Conklin usually was the giant on the floor.
But when he joined the University of Nebraska basketball team in 1999 as a rookie red-shirt, he quickly discovered was only a giant among other giants in the Big 12 Conference and against other big-time competition. He knew he had to develop other assets besides relying on his height.
That's when he embarked on a year-round weight-training program and an off-season running regimen called the Husker Power System -- to get bigger and stronger.
Now, three years into this program and a sophomore, Conklin has put on 40 pounds of muscle, allowing him to compete against the tall towers he encounters from game to game.
A force: And he has become a force to be reckoned with, both from the inside and outside while averaging 24.6 minutes through the first 17 games of the season -- starting 11 of them.
Conklin ranks fourth on the team in scoring average (8.5 points), third in 3-point percentage (40.5 on 34 of 84) and third in rebounding average (3.9 rebounds). The young and rebuilding Cornhuskers have struggled to an 8-9 record, including 1-5 in the Big 12 Conference.
Conklin's long-range shooting ability has dominated his overall shooting from the field, which is 36.7 percent on 47 of 128, although he is 16 of 19 from the foul line for 84.2 percent.
Conklin is grateful for the muscle-building program, which has transformed him into a power player.
Stronger: "The reason I redshirted was to gain that added strength, but I still am going to training every day. It's meant everything so far," said Conklin, who had a team-high 18 points in Nebraska's season-opening win over North Carolina A & amp;T. "I came in about 190 pounds and now I'm up to 230. That has benefited me a lot; that and my quickness has allowed me to do more."
Conklin, who plays the perimeter and can shoot from the inside and outside and has good ball-handling skills, said building muscle has made him a stronger long-range shooter and a more effective defender.
"Obviously, it helps my [shooting] range a lot. I don't have to force shots, and I can finish the play. That helps me to get open and push off a defender when I need to," he said.
"The defensive end is really where the strength comes into play," he added. "I gained 30 pounds, but I still am undersized compared to other players. So every little bit helps."
Rebounding: He has become a more formidable rebounder, but learning the mechanics of rebounding against other tall players has been a challenge.
"Rebounding in college is a lot different than in high school. In high school, you get a lot of rebounds by just being tall, but in college it's just positioning yourself before and after the shot [that's most important] because everyone can jump high.
"And once the ball goes up, they don't call that many fouls, so you can do mostly what you want to get rebounds," he said. "You got to learn how to use your body."
Experience: He also said experience is elemental in defending taller players.
"You can tell the older players from the younger ones because of how they handle the defense, the different schemes," he said. "It's the experience factor. [Playing] time is huge."
Last year as a red-shirt freshman, he averaged 4.0 points and 2.8 rebounds while playing in all 30 games, starting six of them.
Conklin chose Nebraska not only because of basketball, but for its academics and because it was a reminder of home.
"I took my visit out here and it just seemed so comfortable," he said. "The people out here and the players, a lot of it seemed like Ohio, a lot like Youngstown, a very familiar setting. Plus, they have the third-best teacher's college in America. That's the big part, academics."
Eyes the pros: After graduation, Conklin is hoping for a shot at professional basketball -- especially the NBA.
"That's my No. 1 goal now. That's what I'm looking for."
The son of Karen and Raymond Conklin, Brian is majoring in secondary education and has a 3.0 grade-point average in English and secondary education. He would like to become a teacher and coach.
While at Hubbard High under coach Bernie Tarr, Conklin wound up as Hubbard's career leader in scoring (1,180 points), rebounds (835), assists (235) and blocked shots (121), and was a two-time All-State pick.