IOWA CITY — Zach McCabe’s offseason work didn’t center entirely on improving his ballhandling or working on his shooting touch.
He also taught himself to like vegetables … or at least tolerate them. It’s what he felt he had to do to ensure that he had the best possible senior season for the Iowa basketball team.
The 6-foot-7 forward from Sioux City dropped a few pounds in the offseason and feels he is now in the best shape of his life.
“I just thought last year I bulked up a little bit too much and carrying the excess weight, it kind of slows you down toward the end of the season,’’ McCabe said.
“This year I just worked on eating right, making sure I get in the gym and work twice a day, make sure I don’t eat a bunch of crap that I’ve been eating. It’s helped a lot. It’s made my feet a lot quicker and helped me a lot on defense.’’
McCabe said he didn’t drop 15 pounds, as has been reported in some places. He said he still is around 232, just a few pounds down from where he was a year ago, but his conditioning is much better. He said he did it basically by eliminating fast food.
“There wasn’t a particular food, just maybe replacing a cheeseburger with salmon and some vegetables or salad with that,’’ he said. “I had to start liking vegetables and fruit and stuff like that.’’
McCabe said it’s all part of the overall philosophy of head coach Fran McCaffery, who is more concerned with speed and stamina than brute strength.
“Being here as a freshman, we were bulking up and Coach McCaffery kind of went away from that,’’ McCabe said. “He knows that if you add weight that’s not going to help you necessarily on the basketball court. We do lot of different exercises that other teams don’t. We’re not lifting as heavy during the season. It just helps us not be as sore. We’re more reactive and aware in practice.’’
McCabe has been one of the unsung heroes for the Hawkeyes in the past three seasons. He quietly has scored 670 points despite only starting about a third of the games. He has been an exemplary team player and accepted a variety of roles, some of which didn’t necessarily match up with his physical attributes or skill set.
McCaffery said he doesn’t necessarily see McCabe’s conditioning kick as a sign that he has more of a sense of urgency in his final season. He said McCabe never has come up short in that department anyway.
“You know what, with Zach, he's just always the same,’’ McCaffery said. “He competes. He wants to win. He accepts any role you give him. He's in the best shape of his life, without question, so maybe from where he sits, he wants to maximize this opportunity.
"But from where I sit, he just is a guy you'd love to have on your team because he brings it every day and he does whatever he can to help your team win, and he's a really good player.’’