These days, the University of Minnesota basketball coaches are seeing a lot more of Elliott Eliason's bare chest.
The center, one summer after losing more than 20 pounds and dramatically changing his body, walks around the court and weight room and Bierman Athletic Building, now, sans shirt.
Last season, Eliason essentially doubled his production from the previous year, going from 2.2 points and 3.5 rebounds a game to averaging five points and 6.6 rebounds, while playing eight more minutes than he had his sophomore year. Although his offensive output was largely inconsistent -- Eliason scored in double digits seven times but also scored four points or fewer 19 times -- he solidified himself as a highly valuable asset as the last line of defense. The Nebraska native finished with 72 blocks, ranking third in the Big Ten. His block percentage (10.6) landed 28th nationally according to kenpom.com.
Now, he's eliminated pesky injuries caused by being out of shape. He's lifting 185 pounds on the bar, up from 135. He's ripping off sets of chin-ups where before, reeling off just a couple was a struggle.
"I bring it up to him every day -- he's getting tired of it," strength and conditioning coach Shaun Brown said. "Showing him what he was doing a year ago, what he's doing today.
"It's kind of eye opening."
Now, the Gophers are hoping Eliason will be able to take the next steps. With a base built last year -- a smaller frame and more strength -- Eliason can knuckle down on rounding out his game.
Assistant Dan McHale sat with the big man in his office earlier this season, going through each of his makes and misses. The patterns were obvious.
One of his goals is to improve his shooting, yes, but in a smart way: Perfecting a turn-around jumper that is already difficult to block because of his high release. Adding an 8-to-10 foot jumper that McHale believes will "surprise some people." And rather than forcing his weaknesses -- he will never be a back-to-the-basket player -- the coaches have Eliason working on securing a deep position in the paint more consistently, so he doesn't have to post up off the block.
"When he gets deep post position, you can't guard him," McHale said. "He's too big, he's too massive of a frame.
"It isn't reinventing the wheel with him. It isn't trying to get more counters or up-and-unders or drop-steps. It's definitely just trying to get post position."
Even so, the Gophers are well aware that Eliason's true worth comes on the other end of the court. He's established himself as an elite defensive rebounder (ranked 39th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage), post defender and rim runner while running the floor as well as any big man in the conference.
When Eliason keys in on those aspects of his game, McHale believes the offense will come. The assistant thinks the center could lead the Big Ten in rebounding this season, and transform himself into one of the better big men in the conference. His offense should never be the focus.
"The next thing he knows, he wakes up and he's got 10, 12 points," McHale said.
"He has to understand what makes him valuable ... He's never going to be a physically chiseled beat-you-up type of guy. The way Elliott is effective is he can out-run anyone in the league and he's got a long wingspan."